EDEV_505 Week 4 Ethical concerns

In this module, students have to conduct an interview. This pedagogic activity is rife with ethical issues that need to be conceptualised, clarified and understood in order for the interview to be effective as research. The first port of call was an overview of concerns in ethical research. During this week, I formalised my deliberately simplistic definition of ethics as;
the consideration of the power an individual has over another and how that power is used
Once an action is recognised as having the potential to invade the psychological space of another, the relationship between the two individuals and the action has the potential to become an ethical issue.

The investigation into the question the need for trust in ethics in research reveals much about the nature and purpose of ethics. Ethics is seen predominantly as containing intentionality, that is, being deliberate acts of moral conduct (Davis, 2002), reflections-in-action during moments when circumstances produce potential moral conflict (Rossman & Rallis, 2010) and those choices taken that reflect the creation of self-authorship (M. Mason, 2001). Ethical being, therefore, is non-essentialist (i.e. is not a necessary aspect of the research and researcher process) and comes into being only through ethical doing. However, the notion of intentionality assumes that individuals have full awareness of the implications of their actions, an assumption whose incompleteness is at the very least problematic. Developing an awareness of the social mechanics of trust may alleviate these problems, and following Fukuyama’s (2001) recognition of the embeddedness of trust in the interaction of economic and social systems, a similar argument can be made regarding the integration of trust in the socio-economic function of research.

Why is this so? Practitioner research may be conducted by individual researchers in seemingly isolated circumstances, yet any research output will be—however small—a voice in the wider academic community of discourse (Mason, 2007). Once the notion of community is understood, the “connection among individuals” (Putnam, 2000, p. 19) points to the need for a fuller conception of the values, beliefs and requirements of stakeholders in the research process. When I read the work of Researcher A in a peer-reviewed journal, I am at liberty to question the validity of that work, but I am not at liberty to discount in toto the truth of that work. By virtue of its location in the research archives, as a part of the community of researchers I am bound by the conventions of the academic societies in which I am a part. Similarly, my own research output may be utilised as a part of the landscape of truth by any other researcher. My thoughts remain internal to me, but my papers belong to the community of discourse and have validity and legitimacy as instruments of truth. Violating that respect amounts to invalidating the search for truth.

So much for the social systems, but what about the economic systems? The role of the institution of the university is changing in the knowledge society (Shin, Cummings, Arimoto, & Teichler, 2014). Increasingly, the economic underpinning of the researcher’s time, office space, use of facilities and so on needs to answer calls for transparency and accountability (McAreavey & Muir, 2011). Researchers may acquire funding and promotion through their projects and with these gain substantial economic benefit. Moreover as Rata (2012) acknowledges, the politics of knowledge production favour the powerful groups who achieve dominance in structuring their own sociology of knowledge. This leads to more grant allocations and faculty positions for those from within the same sphere of dominance. Trust in truth and truth of trust become pivotal mechanisms these socio-economic environments.

Briefly then, after this demonstration for the need for trust, let me list some issues in ethical trust. What are the sources of trust? How is trust evidenced? Who benefits and who is in danger? What is the nature of that danger? Who is aware of these benefits and dangers? As I consider the impact of the upcoming interview, I need to assess each of these questions against each aspect of my research design. I can contend here (truthfully) that I have every intention of developing and cultivating the social persona of an ethical and therefore trustworthy researcher who can work well within the community of practice and the community of connections. My need for ethical self-authorship is a result of both my own self-relationship and of the hopes I harbour for the mutual development of those I come in contact with. In short, I aim to become ethical through the process of doing ethical conduct.

In relation to this interview, I have a few worries. Accepting a post-modern, socially constructed world (Berger & Luckmann, 1967) in which perceptions of truth and reality may have no secure foundation (von Glasersfeld, 1995), I fear that any probing questions I utilise may destabilise my interviewee’s sense of truth. Because of this, I have not prepared any probing questions and will wait to see how the base questions are answered before prodding further. I selected an interviewee who would in all likelihood not be bothered too much by any insistent probing, someone who I believe has sufficient personal integrity to answer and develop their own reasoning. Charmaz (2006) offers much solid advice about how to interview for ground theory studies. The nature of probing questions will be used to promote trust between myself and the interviewee while aiming to elicit as rich a description as possible from the interviewee’s perspective.

Berger, P. L., & Luckmann, T. (1967). The social construction of reality. New York: Doubleday.

Brown, G., & Yule, G. (1983). Discourse analysis: Cambridge textbooks in linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Charmaz, K. (2006). Constructing grounded theory: A practical guide through qualitative analysis. London: Sage.

Davis, M. (2002). The new world of research ethics: a preliminary map. In Ethics and the University. Florence, US: Routledge.

Fukuyama, F. (2001). Social capital, civil society and development. Third World Quarterly, 22(1), 7 – 20. doi:10.1080/01436590020022547

Mason, L. (2007). Bridging the Cognitive and Sociocultural Approaches in Research on Conceptual Change: Is it Feasible? Educational Psychologist, 42(1), 1–7. doi:10.1080/00461520709336914

Mason, M. (2001). The Ethics of Integrity: Educational Values Beyond Postmodern Ethics. Journal of Philosophy of Education, 35(1), 47–69. doi:10.1111/1467-9752.00209

McAreavey, R., & Muir, J. (2011). Research ethics committees: values and power in higher education. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 14(5), 391–405. doi:10.1080/13645579.2011.565635

Poon, J. M. L., & Ainuddin, R. A. (2011). Selected Ethical Issues in the Analysis and Reporting of Research: Survey of Business School Faculty in Malaysia. Journal of Academic Ethics, 9(4), 307–322. doi:10.1007/s10805-011-9142-3

Putnam, R. D. (2000). Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Rata, E. (2012). The politics of knowledge in education. British Educational Research Journal, 38(1), 103–124. doi:10.1080/01411926.2011.615388

Rossman, G. B., & Rallis, S. F. (2010). Everyday ethics: reflections on practice. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 23(4), 379–391. doi:10.1080/09518398.2010.492813

Shin, J. C., Cummings, W. K., Arimoto, A., & Teichler, U. (2014). Teaching and Research in Contemporary Higher Education: Systems, Activities and Rewards. Dordrecht: Springer. doi:10.1007/978-94-007-6830-7

von Glasersfeld, E. (1995). Radical constructivism: A way of knowing and learning. London: The Falmer Press.

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About theCaledonian

Scot living in north Japan teaching at a private university.
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