Ethical dilemmas in professional practice in anthropology
Policy - environment - development
Student comments and feedback
This page provides an opportunity for students to feedback and comment on what they think about this pilot website. At the moment the comments here, however, are from students who attended the course held at SOAS in May 2003.
If you have comments/feedback/suggestions please send them to admin(AT)theasa.org. They will be added to the page.
Student comments and feedback
Informally, the students offered very positive feedback about the course, commenting on the success of the various sessions and exercises, although three who had attended the Sheffield course (another in the ASA professional practice series) in April 2003 felt that two of the tasks repeated material they had covered before. There appeared to be a general consensus that the course had been very useful and highly enjoyable. The aspect most highlighted was the practical engagement with the complex ethical issues which arise in the policy and development arena, and the way in which different anthropologists tackled the problems they faced. All commented that they found it very helpful to meet and exchange notes with colleagues (staff and students) working in related areas. All but two also found the opportunities to discuss the demands of working/researching outside academia with the panelists very positive. Of the two who did not, both thought the issue to be not the panelists' involvement but rather that they were 'spread too thinly'. 'We needed more time to get to the bottom of what they did'. Just over half the participants also commented positively on how the relaxed and supportive atmosphere enabled some quite difficult and personally affective ethical issues to be discussed in an open way.
Before the course started students were asked to fill in a preparation form. This asked them to list their expectations for the course and identify how it would help in their work. Secondly they were asked to detail an ethical dilemma they were facing and think about what the main issue was and who the relevant parties were. Returning to the preparation task in the final session was enlightening to most participants especially those who had remembered to bring the task with them! All but one found the course had fulfilled their expectations and considerably expanded the tools and techniques they could bring to bear on a given situation. The remaining student who was facing a particularly challenging and difficult issue with potentially high impacts on her life found that the course was not able to give an answer to her specific dilemma. However, she noted that 'it is good to know that other anthropologists have survived difficult situations as well'. What is abundantly clear from these preparation tasks is the degree to which this course responds to needs identified by the students themselves.
Aims and meeting needs
'Writing my research proposal currently - ethics is high on the agenda. I felt I gained some very useful insights from this course which will make me think about my work in new ways.'
Less satisfied was the student who wrote, 'The course addressed issues it had claimed to be addressing, but other stuff made the specific aims more diffuse than what I expected'.
Content and process
While there is clear agreement that the course was stimulating there was less unanimity about the delivery. Some felt the course attempted to cover too much ground. One student put it like this, 'to cover this many topics - more time is needed. At times it felt a bit too disjointed', while another thought that, 'As always in such a short time certain things cannot be dealt with in depth but definitely stimulates thoughts for the future'. One student thought the pace appropriate 'because it was flexible but gets everything done' (flexible was highlighted as 'very important'). Another perhaps felt that things could have moved faster - 'occasionally I found the pace rather slow'.
Insights into anthropological practice
Participants were asked to identify insights they had gained into anthropological practice.
Only one student had no comment to make here. For some the realities of ethical dilemmas facing researchers doing applied research were particularly highlighted: 'Ethical issues become more risky personally when a person is not attached to academics - suddenly anthropologists must decide for themselves not only what will be good for them but how their work affects others. There is no one to decide it for you'; 'Anthropology in academia and anthropology in practice is very much (sic) different'. Others appreciated the range of examples discussed, feeling they had learned something about the situations anthropologists find themselves in and how to be 'negotiating tight spots'. One student commented that 'the anthropologists' role as a legal witness was new for me and very insightful in terms of responsibility towards people', while another echoed that they had learned about 'anthropologists as expert witnesses; (and) anthropologists working in social research'. Three comment on aspects of reflexivity and power relationships between researcher and researched in anthropological practice: 'It gave me an insight on ethics and dissemination of research results. I found it very useful to hear how people deal with what informants confide in them in terms of making it public'. Lastly one student succinctly put their insight as being, 'practising stakeholder analysis'.
Most useful aspects
Students were asked to identify what was most useful about the course. Most comments are directed at the value of 'having people with direct experiences of ethical dilemmas sharing them with us'. They enjoy 'having personal anecdotal experiences' and 'discussing specific ethical dilemmas encountered by other anthropologists'. One student comments on the panelists appreciating meeting 'professionals working in diverse areas', but regretting having 'not enough time to actually engage/discuss their research, so maybe it would have been good to have less panelists and had discussion with each'. This is an issue we deal with in the recommendations. The next most common area of comment was about connecting the experiences they shared to their own work. 'Recognising the need to try and predict ethical dilemmas you may find yourself in' was how one student put it. Two found the stakeholder analysis most useful while one found the same of the exercise discussion ethical codes. Lastly, two comment about the value of sharing experiences with each other - 'the relaxed open feeling of the course allowed freedom of expression. Group interaction an all levels was fantastic'. (This ironically was the same person who found the course disjointed).
Least useful aspects
Participants were asked what was least useful about the course. Two students did not put anything down in this section. However, several comment on the overlap in the stakeholder analysis with the Sheffield course that they had previously attended. 'None of it came across as less useful. The less interesting bit was [one of] the talks only for the reason of attending another ASA course a month earlier' was how one student expressed it, although another found it useful to go over similar concepts again. Two identify the ethical codes exercise as least useful, one adding this was because 'I have already done work at Goldsmiths in class on the ASA Ethical Guidelines'. One student found the stakeholder analysis and self perception inventories 'less relevant'. Perhaps reflecting the different stages they had reached in their research one student regretted the time limits - 'more time is required for full comprehension of some of the concepts and ideas introduced to novice researchers' - while another felt in need of more detail because how situations were represented was 'not fully addressed.'
Changes to the course
Participants were asked in what ways they might like the course changed. Responses can be grouped into three areas; those who want to simply extend the course or drop spread in favour of more depth, those who suggest ways to better integrate sections, and those who want either more practical application or more theoretical input. Thus one student would like to 'extend it from two to five days' while another would add more days but 'possibly change the course to be more focused on purely "ethical issues" - or on "stakeholder analysis" covering less things more thoroughly'. A third thought the 'Panelists should be given more time for presentation' and that there needed to be 'more time for the course as interactive sessions are rushed'. Two suggest sending out more materials beforehand while a third demands 'More structure. Get more preparation beforehand from the students. Respecting schedules, change the title of the course, consult other directors of ASA courses to avoid overlap'. No less forthright was the student who asked for 'More of the 1st day on the second day'. Another was less sure, suggesting a 'more coherent integration of the modules and talks - although I felt that the combination of information, talks and workshops worked well'. Commenting on changing the input, on the one hand some students suggest 'incorporating theoretical approaches with the methodological and ethical dilemmas with the discussion of anthropology of policy', while on the other they wish to 'explore in more depth what it means to work as an anthropologist outside academia'. One final student thought that more focused help would be appropriate: 'As I mentioned earlier, I would appreciate to have had one exercise only and enough time for discussion and to reflect back. Perhaps there should be a session where we bring our own proposals and than discuss them with lecturers on the course'.
Usefulness of the course
Participants were asked if they considered the course useful. All were clear that the course had been very useful for a wide range of reasons. 'Yes, for postgrad students and professionals working in social research'; 'Yes. Helps develop (a) network with students at different levels in the PhD and also introduces new ideas and concepts of the discourse'; 'Yes! For all anthropologists. If for no other reason, to get feedback and opinions of other colleagues'; 'It is for pre-fieldwork or for those thinking of a case in development, it gives them some exposure through discussion - but it is not sufficient for making decisions. The course sets you "thinking"'; 'I found it particularly useful at this stage of writing my research proposal - i.e. pre-fieldwork, in order to feel more mentally prepared for potential ethical problems'; 'The useful aspect about the course is the close contact with practitioners that makes anthropology seem less of an exotic discipline but one that has much to offer'; 'Yes, it is useful. Cause (sic) it gives ideas and knowledge about the practical issues of anthropology of Development'; 'Very useful for all Phd students as it helps them to think about ethical dilemmas in doing research as well as writing up, and it also helps give them an idea of what "professional practice" in anthropology means.'; 'Very much - especially for students (who have) not yet tackled long period of fieldwork. Advantage of insight'; and finally, 'I think it is very useful for any student doing fieldwork. With a good choice of topic it can be helpful both prior to fieldwork and at the writing-up stage'.
'Hopefully this kind of course will continue.'
'A good compliment to the Sheffield ASA course. Keep up the good work!!'
'I thought it was a great experience - feel a lot more confident about my ability:
- the ideas I contributed and the new things I learnt,
- hearing anecdotes of other professionals although I definitely preferred the 1st day to the second i.e. prefer seminars rather than panels (thinly spread).'
'Maybe a list of readings on literature on the issue as not all university departments may discuss this extensively.'
'Maybe a bit more time for the stakeholder analysis would have been nice as well as having the panelists more involved in this i.e. doing a stakeholder analysis of their own organisations.'
'I think you should try and keep it low cost as much as possible.'