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‘I Want the World to Know’: The Ethics of Anonymity in Ethnographic Literacy Research

Methodological Developments in Ethnography

ISBN: 978-0-7623-1437-9, eISBN: 978-1-84950-500-0

Publication date: 10 January 2007


Current practice, reified through typical IRB guidelines, has its roots in traditional positivist frameworks about research. The positivist research paradigm is traceable back to Enlightenment epistemologies, which emphasized the fact-based, value-free nature of knowledge (Christians, 2000; Cunningham & Fitzgerald, 1996; Howe & Moses, 1999; Muchmore, 2000). Christians (2000) suggests that researchers who were grounded in positivist approaches used utilitarian perspectives on research ethics. The utilitarian approach suggested that a single set of moral considerations could guide all inquiry; these considerations were outlined in a generally accepted code of ethics that emphasized informed consent, privacy/confidentiality, and accuracy, and that opposed deception in research. Many of these conventions were codified in national legislation in the USA beginning in 1974, in response to several experiments that had mistreated research participants (Hecht, 1995; UCRIHS, 2004). According to Christians (2000), ‘Three principles, published in what became known as the Belmont Report, were said to constitute the moral standards for research involving human subjects: respect for persons, beneficence, and justice’ (p. 140). These principles were intended to ensure that people participated in research voluntarily and anonymously; that researchers protected the well-being of their participants; and that both the benefits and the burdens of research be distributed equitably (Christians, 2000). This legislation established requirements for IRBs that would review and monitor federally funded research conducted by universities and other institutions. Most universities and other research-conducting institutions have since expanded the purview of their IRBs to monitor all institutional research – not just that which is federally funded (Hecht, 1995).


Perry, K.H. (2007), "‘I Want the World to Know’: The Ethics of Anonymity in Ethnographic Literacy Research", Walford, G. (Ed.) Methodological Developments in Ethnography (Studies in Educational Ethnography, Vol. 12), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 137-154.



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