Thank you for your comment about the potential power issue in cross-cultural research. One quotation stood out for me from Marshall and Batten (2004);
“Much western thinking is characterized by individual and universal conceptualizations and informs academic research norms, whereas the worldviews of many cultural and ethnic groups encompass collectivist and specific norms.”
This sentiment is, I believe, an accurate assessment of a key difference in western/non-western cultural outlooks and that may have a relevance in my own professional situation. Hofstede, Hofstede and Minkov (2010) is a valuable source of how we may understand differences in attitudes towards individualism and collectivism. I was, however, made to think more closely about the nature of informed consent and its relationship to power, especially in light of Hatch’s (2002) observation-cum-admonishment;
“[I]t is tempting to study what you are close to and know a lot about, but students you have taught or are supervising will respond to you and frame their actions around you in particular ways because of your role as university instructor” (Hatch, 2002, p. 47).
There seems to be two positions regarding the notion of informed consent. The first is exemplified in research methods books such as Hatch (2002), Smith (2008) and Blaxter, Hughes and Tight (2006), that treat the matter as a moral imperative, usually predicated on the necessity of avoiding harm (Oliver, 2010). Hatch, for example, claims without any attempt at justification that, “It is wrong to lie to people about what you are doing” (p. 46), instead drawing on the pragmatic implications of being truthful to gatekeepers in order to secure access to research participants. All three texts contain discussions about the problems of informing children and other potential participant groups, but decline to develop the underlying deontological assumptions that they rest their argument on.
The second position does attempt that task and deals with deeper implications of the term informed consent. Hammersley and Traianou (2012) consider, amongst other aspects, the philosophical notion of autonomy and to what degree participants are actually free to make decisions, noting that the free choice to be involved in a research programme is itself a reflection “liberal individualism, and associated ideas about the importance of autonomy” (p. 77). They argue that this represents a cultural bias, that centred on masculine individualism. Hammersley and Traianou place their discussion on autonomy on the libertarian-authoritarian and posit that “It is not sensible to be for, or against, autonomy per se. It only makes sense to be for or against specific sorts of freedom or autonomy, or to judge specific interpretations of them as more or less important than other values in particular circumstances” (p. 78, emphasis in original). In light of these assumptions, the “insider-outsider” (Collins, 1997, p. 11) practitioner-researcher needs to consider both the culture of the participants and their own and the type of autonomy being exercised and allowed, however ironic it seems to allow autonomy. This notion is construed as voluntarism and is taken up by Cohen, Manion and Morrison (2011) who add Diener and Crandall’s fuller spectrum that included competence, full information and comprehension, arguing that “If these four elements are present, researchers can be assured that subjects’ rights will have been given appropriate consideration” (p. 78). However, besides the practical impossibility of giving participants ‘full’ information (Oliver, 2010), Cohen, Manion and Morrison (2011) note that full disclosure of the research plan and purpose may impede the research itself, citing the famous Milgram experiments that would not have been possible if participants knew that they were being lied to by the researchers.
In terms of research into epistemic cognition (EC), insider research is a norm. Furthermore, the raw data to be collected is student speech output in a university setting in front of their professors. Two very influential major early theorists in EC studied students at their respective institutions: Perry (1970) at the Harvard School of Education and Baxter Magolda (1992) at Maine University. In the sense of the traditions in the field, such insider research is not considered a threat to the construct validity of defining the ontology of EC, except to the degree that self-reporting is generally viewed with suspicion in educational psychological research (Schraw, Bendixen, & Dunkle, 2002).
Baxter Magolda, M. B. (1992). Knowing and reasoning in college: Gender-related patterns in students’ intellectual development. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Blaxter, L., Hughes, C., & Tight, M. (2006). How to Research (3rd ed.). Maidenhead: Open University Press.
Cohen, L., Manion, L., & Morrison, K. (2011). Research Methods in Education. Professional Development in Education (7th ed.). Abingdon: Routledge.
Collins, P. H. (1999). Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. New York: Routledge.
Hammersley, M., & Traianou, A. (2012). Ethics in Qualitative Research: Controversies and Contexts. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.
Hatch, A. J. (2002). Doing qualitative research in education settings. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Hofstede, G., Hofstede, G. J., & Minkov, M. (2010). Cultures and organisations: Software of the mind. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Marshall, A., & Batten, S. (2004). Researching Across Cultures: Issues of Ethics and Power [17 paragraphs]. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 5(3), Art. 39
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.
Schraw, G., Bendixen, L. D., & Dunkle, M. E. (2002). Development and validation of the Epistemic Belief Inventory (EBI). In B. K. Hofer & P. R. Pintrich (Eds.), Personal epistemology: The psychology of beliefs about knowledge and knowing (pp. 261–276). Mahwa, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
Smith, E. (2008). Using secondary data in educational and social research. Maidenhead: Open University Press.