Research About the Pharmaceutical Industry: Ethical Positioning in a Powerful Network


  • Caroline Meier zu Biesen Freie Universität Berlin



ethical self-reflection, social suffering, medical anthropology, pharmaceutical industry, role conflict, Tanzania


Taking into account the impact of global power relations with regard to health care, I investigated, as part of a medical-anthropological study, the introduction of a new (now-world-leading) anti-malaria drug in Tanzania. In so doing, I was confronted with human suffering, the experience of mortality (malaria), and conflicts; and I was confronted in a way that raises ethical questions about responsibility, respect, and my own capacities for action. In this article, I reflect on my experiences during the field research with regard to my own ethical positioning in a network of power, which implies different roles, positioning, and (own or external) expectations in a sensitive field of research that may be marked by distrust. Against this background, I make thematic ethical research challenges, standards and problems that are relevant for qualitative research and, more generally, for (medical) anthropology with its transcultural and transdisciplinary problems. I focus, on the one hand, on aspects of confidentiality and transparency—a core element of ethically responsible research—toward informants and participants in the field. On the other hand, I address the question of the influence that doubts about one’s own role as a researcher working in particular environments (here, pharmaceutical industry) can exert on the data collection and the analysis.


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Author Biography

Caroline Meier zu Biesen, Freie Universität Berlin

Caroline MEIER ZU BIESEN ist wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin am Institut für Sozial- und Kulturanthropologie an der Freien Universität Berlin und Forschungsmitglied im ERC-Projekt GLOBHEALTH am Centre de recherche médicine, sciences, santé, santé mentale, société (Cermes3) in Paris. Ihre Forschungen fokussieren auf globale Gesundheitssteuerung, transnationalen Medikamentenhandel, HIV/Aids, Malaria und traditionelle Medizin. Ihre Forschungsregionen sind Ostafrika (Tansania, Sansibar, Äthiopien, Kenia) und Indien. In ihrem derzeitigen DFG-Forschungsprojekt untersucht sie die Kollaborationsmöglichkeiten zwischen traditionellen HeilerInnen und ÄrztInnen im Kontext von Diabetes in Sansibar.



How to Cite

Meier zu Biesen, C. (2018). Research About the Pharmaceutical Industry: Ethical Positioning in a Powerful Network. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 19(3).



Research Ethics in Qualitative Research