Ethics in research: follow-up 1

In reference to L’s dilemma, I’d like to expand on something L mentioned briefly that Williams (2012) also glossed over in the video. The topic of truth deserves further investigation because it points to an epistemology of conflict that may help the researcher in ethical decisions. To review the situation, here is what Williams said:

“For scientists, for engineers, and for accountants, and for economists, they have no idea what’s going to happen to their text in the hands of somebody who’s going to do critical discourse analysis, and suddenly find themselves peeled back in ways that horrify them.” (Laureate, 2012).

The key word here is “text”. Postmodernism and poststructuralism in particular have posed serious questions about the nature of truth, arguing that truth can only be relevant to the text in which it is located (Eriksson & Kovalainen, 2008). But even the notion of text may benefit from been seen from the wider Foucauldian perspective of all aspects that are present and not present in a work (Graham, 2011). Williams notes that information gathered during an interview can be compromised and may “feel thin and flimsy” (Laureate, 2012) and that the ownership of the information is also contested. However, interviewing is a process of negotiation between the interviewer, the respondent and the topic. In other words, “in the telling of a story the interviewee is making sense of the story … the story changes in its telling” (Hammond & Wellington, 2013, p. 93). The ownership of the data resides not with the respondent but jointly there and with the researcher due to the recognition that the data might only exist because of the interview itself and will almost certainly be shaped by the process of the interview. The process is the “text” and any truth generated from it is itself malleable.

Why did I suggest that this may lead to an epistemology for researchers? Because putting these concepts together, we are left with the potentiality for any single situation to be interpreted in highly diverse ways. Social scientists do not have the luxury of viewing truth from the critical realist’s perspective (Lund, 2012), which leads to the understanding that in terms of ethics, perhaps the only thing that is possible is to inform respondents (and grant awarding bodies) that the uses of any data gathered during research cannot be known until the process of the research itself reveals the use.


Eriksson, P., & Kovalainen, A. (2008). Research Philosophy. In Qualitative Methods in Business Research (pp. 11–25). London: Sage Publications.

Hammond, M., & Wellington, J. (2013). Research Methods. London and New York: Routledge.

Graham, L. J. (2011). The Product of Text and “Other” Statements: Discourse analysis and the critical use of Foucault. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 43(6), 663–674.

Laureate Education Inc., (2012). Ethical Issues for the Practitioner-Researcher. [Audio]. Music Creative Support Services: Los Angeles, CA.

Lund, T. (2012). Combining Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches: Some Arguments for Mixed Methods Research. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 56(2), 155–165.


About theCaledonian

Scot living in north Japan teaching at a private university.
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