EDEV_507 Week 6 Initial Post

I have completed a week-long class on ethics in research and had the chance to explore some new angles on this topic in relation to how I propose to study epistemic cognition in the Japanese context. Thankfully, the week’s readings and discussions did enable a (mostly) different approach from the earlier course.

Oliver’s (2010) discussion on how ethics issues has relevancy between ethnically different respondents includes a section on ethnocentrism in research (p. 108). Earlier, Oliver also examines the possible ethical implications when a single individual assumes both the role of an insider teacher and a researcher (p. 7). Although Oliver writes for the researcher who operates in an English-speaking country and his characterisations of ethnicity reflect the position of Anglo-centric cultural norms that researchers may unwittingly be promoting, both of these issues have direct relevance to my situation as an inside researcher in English in a Japanese university. Furthermor as Cohen, Manion and Morrison (2011) recognised, all countries do not utilise ethics approval in the same way, and Japan’s flavour of ethics focuses on the biomedical fields, fiscal improprieties in research grants and in having sufficient general respect for research participants (MacFarlane & Saitoh, 2008). There is no ethics approval requirement for researchers in my faculty, for example, neither is there any ethics approval board in the university for non-biomedical research.

The early studies in epistemic cognition (Baxter Magolda, 1992; Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, & Tarule, 1986; Perry, 1970) have been recognised as potentially containing implicit Anglo-American biases (K. Chan & Elliott, 2004; N. M. Chan, Ho, & Ku, 2011; Hofer & Pintrich, 1997), and the original research instruments have been modified in an attempt to reflect the cultural tendencies in various settings (K. Chan & Elliot, 2000; Greene, Sandoval, & Bråten, 2016). In a Confucian heritage country like Japan (Yang, 2011), the motivation for self-actualisation may carry more implicit connections to group collective identities (Gambrel & Cianci, 2003). This contrasts with Maslow’s humanistic theory that self-actualisation reaches its pinnacle with separation from the group (Maslow, 1954), an attitude also found in Kegan’s (1982) cognitive developmental theory and Graves’ (1970) Levels of Existence whose highest levels see the individual having the ability to recognise their subjective existence as an objectively viewable social fact (Ritzer, 2011). As a long-time resident in Japan, I would contest Gambrel and Cianci (2003) on the grounds that no individual can ever be truly separate from, or in control of, the social forces that define them and that the implicit assumption that only those from the Anglosphere can understand social facts objectively is highly problematic. That argument, however, is for another day.

In terms of ethical research using quantitative questionnaire instruments, Oliver (2010) describes issues of sampling only. However, my instrument needs to acknowledge potential Anglo- (or Scotto-) bias. For example, Schommer’s (1998) Epistemology Questionnaire includes items that may contain an implicit cultural bias, or at least loaded nuances that assume different meanings in the Japanese context. Item 58 asks respondents to express the degree of agreement on a Likert-type five-point scale to the following; “I find it refreshing to think about issues that authorities can’t agree on”. The sub-culture in the US (Schommer’s sphere of activity) of anti-authority sentiment, as evidenced in conspiracy theories and in other anti-authoritarian sentiments, produces a potential meaning to this item than it can in Japan. Someone who indicates a high degree of agreement with Item 58 may be revealing to the researcher their joy in anti-authoritarianism or a cognitive appreciation of higher-order complexities in truth judgments. An item such as this may be ethically risky in Japan as it may induce some maleficence (Cohen, Manion, & Morrison, 2011) by suggesting to respondents an attitude that can damage their (generally) collectivist and compliant positioning in regard to authority. Furthermore, as the researcher is me, an insider, this item may put pressure on respondents due to their knowledge of me as a person and as a teacher who, in the classroom, encourages appropriate critical thinking against authority. The item’s construct validity is also in jeopardy.

Space forbids a fuller discussion of how the survey instrument contains ethical issues, or how a foreigner should deal with the concerns from the opposite position that Oliver (2010) mentions, or how insider research can overcome the myriad of interpersonal problems that arise through respondents also being students and the researcher also being an easily identifiable teacher. Perhaps we can discuss these together during the week?


Baxter Magolda, M. B. (1992). Knowing and reasoning in college: Gender-related patterns in students’ intellectual development. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Belenky, M. F., Clinchy, B. M., Goldberger, N. R., & Tarule, J. M. (1986). Women’s Ways of Knowing: The Development of Self, Voice, and Mind. New York: Basic Books.

Chan, K., & Elliot, R. G. (2000). Exploratory Study of Epistemological Beliefs of Hong Kong Teacher Education Students: resolving conceptual and empirical issues. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 28(3), 225–234.

Chan, K., & Elliott, R. G. (2004). Epistemological beliefs across cultures: critique and analysis of beliefs structure studies. Educational Psychology, 24(2), 123–142. http://doi.org/10.1080/0144341032000160100

Chan, N. M., Ho, I. T., & Ku, K. Y. L. (2011). Epistemic beliefs and critical thinking of Chinese students. Learning and Individual Differences, 21(1), 67–77. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2010.11.001

Cohen, L., Manion, L., & Morrison, K. (2011). Research Methods in Education. Professional Development in Education(7th ed.). Abingdon: Routledge.

Gambrel, P. A., & Cianci, R. (2003). Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: Does It Apply In A Collectivist Culture. Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship, 8(2), 143–161. Retrieved from http://proxy.grenoble-em.com/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.proxy.grenoble-em.com/docview/203916225?accountid=42864

Graves, C. W. (1970). Levels of Existence: an Open System Theory of Values. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 10, 131–155. http://doi.org/10.1177/002216787001000205

Greene, J. A., Sandoval, W. A., & Bråten, I. (2016). Handbook of Epistemic Cognition. New York: Routledge.

Hofer, B. K., & Pintrich, P. R. (1997). The Development of Epistemological Theories: Beliefs About Knowledge and Knowing and Their Relation to Learning. Review of Educational Research, 67(1), 88–140. http://doi.org/10.3102/00346543067001088

Kegan, R. (1982). The evolving self: Problem and process in human development. Cambridge, MA, USA: Harvard University Press.

MacFarlane, B., & Saitoh, Y. (2008). Research ethics in Japanese higher education: Faculty attitudes and cultural mediation. Journal of Academic Ethics, 6(3), 181–195. http://doi.org/10.1007/s10805-008-9065-9

Maslow, A. H. (1954). Motivation and Personality (1970th ed.). Harper & Row.

Oliver, P. (2010). The student’s guide to research ethics (2nd ed.). Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Perry, W. G. (1970). Forms of Intellectual and Ethical Development in the College Years: A Scheme. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

Ritzer, G. (2011). Sociological Theory. Sociological Theory (8th ed.). New York: McGraw Hill.

Schommer, M. (1998). The influence of age and education on epistemological beliefs. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 68(4), 551–562. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.2044-8279.1998.tb01311.x

Yang, R. (2011). Self and the other in the Confucian cultural context: Implications of China’s higher education development for comparative studies. International Review of Education, 57(3–4), 337–355. http://doi.org/10.1007/s11159-011-9208-x

About theCaledonian

Scot living in north Japan teaching at a national university.
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