Where did the idea for the EthNav come from?
As a result of research experiences in the field of biosciences, both authors have become concerned about a tension between research ethics on the one hand and the capacity to carry out certain kinds of research on the other. In response to these concerns they organised a series of international workshops to explore the extent of this tension and the forms that it was taking for qualitative social scientists in general, and social anthropologists in particular. Out of these discussions came a recognition that there was a need for a simple document - the EthNav - enabling researchers to orientate themselves in an increasingly congested landscape of expectations and regulations. (Left: Bob R. Simpson at ASA2018 in Oxford/ Photo by Jude Robinson)
The idea for an EthNav originated in a series of Wellcome Trust-funded workshops. These were prompted by our own concerns that the way that ethics now featured in social science research was beginning to confound and stifle research rather than facilitate and enable it. In November 2015, we held an international conference at the University of Sussex. The question around which the event was built asked: “Have we become too ‘ethical’?” Needless, to say the inverted commas in the title were meant to signal an irony. We were not suggesting any move towards a lesser regard for the well-being of the people or communities amongst whom we work, but raising a concern about the continued growth of research regulation through institutional review by committee (Sleeboom-Faulkner, Simpson, Martinez and McMurray 2017). Sixty social-science researchers, delegates from research funding bodies and representatives of professional associations from anthropology and sociology from the UK, Europe and beyond came together to discuss these tensions and specifically those that arise when sensitive research involving vulnerable subjects is put forward for ethics review.
In august of 2016 we followed up this workshop with a colloquium – ‘How can we become more “ethical”?’ More irony! We invited fifteen people with something to say on the major themes that had emerged in the first conference. The themes were clustered around issues of i) epistemology and methodology, ii) research ethics and governance and iii) how, in practical terms, we might help early career researchers get a better handle on the complex business managing their ethical commitments and responsibilities in practice. The group encompassed researchers, post-grads, post-docs, ethics committee members and funders all with an interest in the travails of ethnographic research in ethics review by committee.
We are grateful to the participants of these international meetings and to the researchers, administrators and policy-makers who gave their time to explain the landscape as they saw it. We are also grateful to those who responded to an electronic survey on the topic of ethical governance in the context of ethnography. We are particularly grateful to: Rose Barbor (Open University and British Sociology Association [BSA]ethics officer), Elena Burgos-Martinez (University of Durham), Annita Charalambous (ethics officer Wellcome Trust), Anna Chiumento (University of Liverpool), Jane Cowan (University of Sussex), Robert Dingwall (Nottingham Trent University), Rachel Douglas-Jones (University of Kopenhagen), Michelle Dodson (ethics officer Economic and Social Research Council [ESRC]), Nathan Emmerich (Queens University Belfast), Ian Harper (University of Edinburgh), Adam Hedgecoe (University of Cardiff), Ron Iphofen (Adviser in Research Ethics to the European Commission), Helen Kara (independent researchers, Social Research Association [SRA]), Laura Machin (University of Lancaster), James McMurray (University of Sussex), Nayanika Mookherjee (University of Durham, former ethics officer Association for Social Anthropology [ASA]), Stephen Parkin (University of Oxford), Peter Pels (University of Leiden, Coordinator International Ethics Network, European Association of Social Anthropologists [EASA, 1996-2007]), Lucy Pickering (University of Glasgow and (ASA) ethics officer), Priscilla Song (Washington University), MartinTolich (University of Otago), Tessa Verhallen (University of Utrecht), and Elena Volpi (European Research Council [ERC] Scientific Officer). We are also grateful for written contributions from Pat Caplan (Goldsmith’s), Matthew LaRiviere (University of East Anglia), Ed Simpson (SOAS), Marilyn Strathern (University of Cambridge), Peter Wade (University of Manchester), and Ayo Wahlberg (University of Copenhagen).
The resulting account is a composite of all these contributions and we hope that it will benefit to social anthropologists embarking on an ethnographic study.
Sleeboom-Faulkner, M., Simpson, B., Burgos-Martinez, E., & McMurray, J. (2017). The formalization of social-science research ethics: how did we get there?. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 7(1), 71-79