Rethinking Research Ethics for Mediated Settings

On 13/09/2011 by Adolfo

It has been a long way since I spent four months in the Virtual Knowledge Studio in Amsterdam in 2008. It was a great time for me and for my professional development. I worked there with Anne Beaulieu in the topic of research ethics, particularly in the challenges we face when using Internet technologies and/or when we research the Internet. Both Anne and I faced issues in our fieldwork whose solution was not clear in terms of the conventions we assume for face to face interactions. As a consequence of our discussions the paper we wrote come to light: Rethinking Research Ethics for Mediated Settings. We discuss difficulties of anonymization due to trazability of content; difficulties for foreseeing the consequences of our decisions in the field and the contiguity of field and home and the particular ethical problems it pose. The paper will be publish in 2012 in the journal Information, Communication and Society; in a monograph edited by Annamaria Carusi. However, it is already accessible, you can download it from here: Rethinking Research Ethics for Mediated Settings. More on ethics in this section, the abstract below:

An important feature of e-research is the increased mediation of research practices, which changes not only the objects and tools of research, but also the relation between researcher and object, between researchers, and between researchers and their constituencies and stakeholders. This article focuses on the ethical aspects of e-research by analysing the implications of these changing relationships in the case of ethnography in mediated settings. It makes a specific contribution to the discussions about research ethics that are currently pursued and that tend to be catalysed by institutional review boards. The authors aim to link ethical discussions with the actual practices and conditions of qualitative social research. To do so, they review how researchers have used principles and ethical guides of traditional disciplines in ethnography, and show that several of concepts and categories on which these guidelines rely (personhood, privacy, harm, alienation, power) are otherwise enacted in mediated settings. The authors also analyze the ethical issues that have arisen in our own research. On the basis of these discussions, they specify two of the underlying dynamics of research in mediated settings, contiguity and traceability, in order to understand why traditional research ethics are challenged by these settings. The article specifies how mediated contexts can shape ethical issues; it provides a concise yet illustrative elaboration of a number of these issues; and proposes a vocabulary to further discuss this aspect of ethnographic work. Together, these elements amount to a contribution for the elaboration of new ethical research practices for social research in mediated settings.

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