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Ermine et al write of an ‘ethical space’. This conceptual space ‘between the Indigenous and Western worlds’ (Ermine et al, 2004: 19) ‘provides a venue within which to articulate the possibilities and challenges of bringing together different ways of coming to knowledge and applying this theory to the practice of research’ (Ermine et al, 2004: 16). Chilisa, too, writes of a ‘space in between’ the Euro-Western and Indigenous paradigms. This space:
involves a culture-integrative research framework. This is a tapestry, a mosaic of balanced borrowing of less hegemonic Euro-Western knowledge and its democratic and social justice elements and combining it with the best of the democratic, liberatory, and social justice essentialized indigenous knowledge and subgroups’ knowledges. (Chilisa, 2012: 25)
This book has attempted to work within that ethical space in between by balancing the Euro-Western and Indigenous paradigms alongside each other, with the aim of finding out what may be learned from their differing approaches to research ethics. It is ethical to question ‘the hegemonic role of colonialism ... in the construction of knowledge’ (Chilisa, 2012: 123). This hegemony is evident in academia in so many ways:
the colonised curriculum, in which no Indigenous scholars are represented (le Grange, 2016: 6);
the colonisation of methodology, such that Indigenous research methods are judged by Euro-Western standards (Wilson, 2008: 30);
the colonisation of process, such that Indigenous researchers are forced to justify their long-established approach to research in more recent Euro-Western terms (Wilson, 2008: 30–1);
research still being done by Euro-Western researchers, using Euro-Western methods, on Indigenous peoples, communities and lands (Kovach, 2009: 28; Rix et al, 2018: 7); and so on.
This is massively unethical, so another aim of this book has been to question, and perhaps make a small contribution to dismantling, that hegemony.
Most Indigenous researchers do not separate ethics from research as a whole (Kovach, 2009: 142). Yet the Euro-Western system of research ethics regulation is not going to go away any time soon. Some would argue that it should not. But it does need to change, to become more flexible and accessible, to be more aware of
In the Euro-Western paradigm, the potential need for research aftercare is rarely recognised or discussed.
“I just think that’s a great question! Because it never comes up! I think it’s a great question and it’s one I’m going to think about for some of my ethics training and lecturing. You’re right, the research is done, the researchers leave, the participants might get a two-page summary and that’s the last they hear of it.”
“Do we have a duty of care for any audience? Or should we only be considering the ethics of the research? A medical thing will say ‘we’ll give you a counsellor for three months if you need it’; I could see an art exhibition having that effect, only on a small percentage but ethically every member of that audience needs to be cared for. This comes into practicalities: is it possible to resource? If there hasn’t been a case, is it ‘reasonable risk’? These are issues that perhaps aren’t being thought about. All I would say at this stage is, they should be thought about, so there are no surprises.”
Some Euro-Western researchers do think about aftercare, at least to some extent. For example, some ethnographers advocate ‘friendship as method’ (Tillmann-Healy 2001, cited in Ellis, 2007) and acknowledge that, if this is the case, ‘there is no leaving the field’ (Ellis, 2007: 13). However, this seems mostly to happen at an individual level rather than with any team or institutional encouragement.
“Making sure that people know what happens with the research, that’s always been important to me. It has been before I knew what participatory research was – don’t just parachute in and parachute out. Even if they weren’t involved in writing or interpretation, that they get to see what’s produced at the end as a minimum. I’ve got my own invisible minimum requirements, then those might expand and extend depending on the nature of the project.”
All research needs to be contextualised. Whether in the Euro-Western or the Indigenous paradigm, any piece of research is part of the worldwide exchange and development of knowledge that has gone on – and will go on – throughout human history. Some people think of this as a conversation. As with face-to-face conversations, there are ethical considerations: it’s important to take turns to speak, listen attentively and be polite and respectful to your fellow discussants. In research, the metaphor of the conversation includes the whole process, not only the parts involving actual speech.
“With my recent study, I had good intentions, but I had to be careful that my intentions didn’t trample on the intentions of previous people who have informed this body of knowledge.”
This interviewee is aware of the conversation between their intentions and those of others, which they needed to listen to and respect in their own work. This chapter will show you what this means in practice when you are contextualising your research.
There are different ways to contextualise different kinds of research. Academic research is usually contextualised through a literature review. Evaluation research will probably be contextualised through a document analysis. Participatory or community-based research may be contextualised through face-to-face conversations between people. There are no hard-and-fast rules about how research should be contextualised. It is, though, important that it should be set in context.
There are two main reasons for this. First, the work involved in contextualising research helps to clarify ideas about what to investigate and why; perhaps also how to make that investigation.
Researchers sometimes invent data to make their results look better. A notorious example from the 21st century is that of the Korean stem cell researcher Hwang Woo-suk, who reported that he had been able to create human stem cells by cloning. It was later found that his data had been fabricated, although he claimed that he was deceived by other members of his research team. He lost his job at Seoul National University and received a suspended prison sentence for embezzlement of research funding and other ethical violations, although he was cleared of fraud. Sadly, he is not unusual. A meta-analysis of surveys of scientific misconduct found that around one in 50 scientists admitted fabrication, falsification or modification of data or results, and up to one in three admitted various other unethical practices such as making changes to research in response to pressure from funders (Fanelli, 2009: 8).
Data manipulation is subtly different from data fabrication because, rather than being invented, real data is presented inaccurately. This could be done, for example, by combining interesting factors from several otherwise uninteresting cases to create one interesting case for presentation. (In some forms of research, it is acceptable to create a composite case, if that composite case is authentic and recognisable as representative of the individual cases and the researcher makes it clear that the case is a composite.) Another way data could be manipulated is by using software to change the presentation of visual data. There is nothing wrong with using software to improve a visual image, such as by adjusting the brightness or contrast of a whole picture to make it easier to view.
Data gathering is the phase of research that receives most ethical scrutiny within the Euro-Western paradigm. This is partly because it carries most risk to institutions: if participants are unhappy with the way they are treated by researchers, they may take legal or social action against the institution concerned. Therefore, most ethical scrutiny focuses on participant well-being. It is of course an ethical imperative for researchers to do all they can to ensure the health, happiness and safety of people who are participating in their research. And not only individual people, as this interviewee recognised:
“I’ve been doing a project in a school; it reflects what’s going on in the school, but how do I protect the school?”
For some laboratory-based researchers, there is a straightforward way to manage this:
“Ethically, I’m participant #1 in all my studies because I would never ask someone to do something I wouldn’t do, and I need to see it works properly.”
But those who work in more naturalistic settings can’t use this approach. Also, there are many other ethical dimensions to consider when planning and carrying out your data gathering. Many are not covered by formal ethical approval systems, and (as we saw in Chapter 4) some may even be caused by those systems.
“There’s a real danger of research suffering because of ethics. It’s a fine balance. It’s ethically problematic if the research is failing. Anonymisation doesn’t necessarily make the research stronger, it makes it more ethical, and that is an interesting balance to be struck.”
This is very much a Euro-Western perspective and is based on the premise that researchers have no relationship with participants except through the research (Ellis, 2007: 5).
As we saw in the previous chapter, dissemination involves sharing data and publicising research beyond that which you can do in person. Dissemination itself is an ethical imperative for researchers, particularly if the work is resourced from public or charitable funds, as this interviewee was keenly aware.
“Dissemination is now beyond the confines of academia; you’ve got new audiences. We need to look at the consequences of our findings on new audiences and how we communicate these. Is there an ethical responsibility to share our results? Yes there is. Do we do it? Probably not all the time. And therefore do we start thinking about academic language and access to results? This is really pressing. If it’s about them, they should have the rights to the results. I’d like impact to start to be seen from an ethical point of view, rather than just a government funding type issue. There are ethical issues about sharing results beyond academia particularly if it’s government funded.”
This is partly because it is ethical to share information and knowledge gained, and partly because it is ethical to make the most possible use of research findings.
“There’s no point doing research unless you take it into policy and practice and make a difference.”
There are many ways to disseminate research, and some are more ethical than others, depending on the context. You can disseminate information online; in hard copy; using text, images, video; in academic journals or other formal publications, or by self-publishing; through mainstream media; using social media; through an exhibition or installation; or in a range of other creative ways from graphic novels or zines to interpretative dance (Gaudry, 2015: 257; Kara, 2015: 161).
The days when researchers presented their work only to each other, or to research funders or evaluation commissioners, are long gone. Contemporary researchers present to, and increasingly with, a wide range of diverse audiences (Pickering and Kara, 2017: 300). This shift has brought with it a range of ethical considerations that are often overlooked. There is little information about ethical approaches to presenting research in either the Euro-Western or the Indigenous literature. Yet presentations may conceal as well as reveal (Tamas, 2009: 617). To take an ethical approach to your presentation, you need to consider what you are hiding as well as what you intend to show.
In the Euro-Western paradigm, the time available for presentations is often very short, which may lead to more concealment than revelation.
“Time is always limited so you’re not opening all your skeletons within your presentations, you just bring out the good stuff.”
The presentation is usually made by a researcher to an audience, with a few minutes for questions at the end, at an event created to facilitate such presentations, such as a conference or seminar. In the Indigenous paradigm, research may be presented within existing community methods for information sharing, such as the sharing circle. These can last for many hours, and are dialogic, with everyone present being given a chance to contribute if they wish (Lambert, 2014: 32).
As you present research, you are communicating directly with other people, which brings ethical responsibilities (Warren, 2014: 1). To make presentations ethical, it is essential to know your audience(s) as far as possible, and to make your work accessible for them.
In the Euro-Western paradigm, reporting research usually involves some kind of document including words and numbers, perhaps with some illustrative images or diagrams. However, there are many other types of written communication that could be relevant for research, such as computer code, tattoos, chalk on pavements and the sand drawings of Vanuatu. Writing in Vanuatu is done with a finger in sand (or dust or ash) and always accompanies, or is accompanied by, talk. This is not as Euro-Western people might understand illustration; the drawings are geometric patterns and can be used, for example, in explanation, discussion, storytelling, teaching or for sacred purposes. They are not intended to be permanent, any more than spoken words are permanent, and are ‘left to be blown away in the breeze’ (Zagala, 2004: 32).
Research in Vanuatu may involve sand drawings. This tells us that writing does not have to be permanent to count as relevant in research. We can also begin to see that the boundary between writing and drawing is not firm or impermeable. For example, tattoos are usually thought of by Euro-Western people as decorative (even when script is used) and a matter of individual choice. They are also something that can be commissioned and created on a whim, even (if the tattoo artist is unscrupulous) when the recipient is intoxicated. By contrast, for some Indigenous peoples such as Māori, tattoos are functional, offering specific links to culture, community and ancestors, providing information about the wearer to others and having a strong spiritual dimension, among other things (Pawlik, 2011: 5).
Euro-Western societies value some different principles and ideas from Indigenous societies (although of course there are also areas of overlap). For example, the principle of autonomy is highly valued in most Euro-Western societies, while the principle of collectivity is highly valued in many African societies (de Vries and Henley, 2014: 80). Also, there are a range of Euro-Western epistemologies and ontologies. Nevertheless, most Euro-Western ontologies are based on the idea that it is possible to separate wholes into parts: to differentiate, for example, spiritual from physical, and emotional from cerebral. And most Euro-Western epistemologies are based on the idea that knowledge is held by individuals.
This book highlights some of the ways in which Euro-Western research may not always be as ethical as its adherents would like to think. In this context, it is necessary to note that the oppression of Indigenous peoples through Euro-Western research is not confined to history (Moodie, 2010: 818; Rix et al, 2018: 5, 7). For example, American museums, universities and other institutions still hold the remains and burial offerings of around two million Indigenous people, even though legislation was passed to change this as long ago as 1990. Because Euro-Western researchers have labelled these materials as ‘data’, they have been able to avoid repatriating the human remains and burial offerings which are so important to Indigenous peoples (Dunbar-Ortiz, 2014: 231).
We know that Euro-Western research has been used in support of atrocities around the world, including within Euro-Western society, such as Nazi medical research on concentration camp prisoners during the Second World War.