A Transactional Approach to Research Ethics

Wolff-Michael Roth


Constructivist (constructionist) epistemologies focus on ethics as a system of values in the mind—even when previously co-constructed in a social context—against which social agents compare the actions that they mentally plan before performing them. This approach is problematic, as it forces a wedge between thought and action, body and mind, universal and practical ethics, and thought and affect. In this contribution, I develop a transactional approach to ethics that cannot be developed within constructionism. In a once-occurrent world, every act is ethical because it has consequences for the agent (who affects and is also affected), and the world as a whole. However, whereas many in the social sciences continue to articulate a theory of action and thus the practical nature of ethics in terms of the individual's act, in this contribution I show that the act always already is spread across people and things and, thus, is an integral and constitutive part of a transaction. This utterly relational take on human behavior thus undermines approaches to ethics that are based on the individual as unit of analysis. Most controversially perhaps, I exhibit how those who may feel hurt by the actions (talk) of others are themselves agents affecting those others and, thus, answerable. This approach is illustrated in the context of power-knowledge, which is the result of an always ongoing, only once-occurrent situated and situational struggle rather than something a priori distributed between people.


transaction; translocution; joint action; reflexivity; postcolonialism; responsibility; answerability

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17169/fqs-19.3.3061

Copyright (c) 2018 Wolff-Michael Roth

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