Qualitative Research and Ethics

This FQS Debate deals with ethics, which is understood, depending on the situation, as resource for action, contested field, practice, politics, and so on used to plan and enact qualitative research in a variety of settings. The Debate was brought about as a reflexive investigation of anything and everything concerning research ethics, pertaining to researchers and participants alike. Potential contributors might ask themselves, "What are the ethical dimensions of doing qualitative research with vulnerable populations?" Here, vulnerable refers to any adjective/concept used to demarcate differences along the lines of which inequity and injustice have been and are enacted in society, including sex/gender, race, culture, sexual preference, socioeconomic status, and so on.

Other topics that may be addressed in this Debate pertain to the way in which ethics reviews are used to mediate, moderate, control etc. qualitative research in its planning, review, and execution phases. For example, one might ask, "How is ethical review employed to curtail practitioner-research?" or "How is ethical review employed to curtail action research that brings out injustices in the workplace?" Sometimes the ethics of intersecting activity systems overlap or collide. Thus, one might also ask questions such as, "How do professional ethics of the workplace (school, company) interact with research ethics governed by regulations of another workplace (college, university, professional governing board)?"

In this FQS Debate, the emphasis is on ethics in all its dimensions, concerning not only the relation between researchers and participants, but also the relation between researchers and their institutions, researchers and the institutions of their participants, institutions and national policies, researchers and national policies, and so on. The focus, however, should not be only the problematic areas, the malpractices so to speak, but also attempts to enact good or best practices, such as in the training of future researchers. How does one include research ethics into the training of future researchers? How does an individual become an ethical researcher? How do practitioner-researchers resolve or integrate conflicting ethical principles?"

Authors who want to contribute to this Debate may use any genre appropriate for expressing the opinions, analyses, descriptions, etc. dealt with in the text. Of course, texts are especially strong and compelling when the genre corresponds to, reflexively elaborates, or highlights the contents—for as the Canadian communications guru Marshall McLUHAN pointed out, the medium is the message. The message of the medium and the content expressed by the medium therefore interact, and authors should feel free to choose (by interacting with the moderator, if they wish) the most appropriate genre for the message that they want to convey.

The perspectives of any stakeholder in research are welcome—including researchers, participants, research ethics board members, policy makers, lawyers, and philosophers. All of these are welcome as authors! What we want is to achieve as much elucidation of research ethics in qualitative research as possible, from as many perspectives as possible, by as many different stakeholders as possible.

Debate "Qualitative Research and Ethics": Wolff-Michael Roth