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Ethical dilemmas in studying family consumption

Ratna Khanijou (Royal Holloway University of London, Egham, UK)
Daniela Pirani (University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK)

Qualitative Market Research

ISSN: 1352-2752

Article publication date: 7 February 2020

Issue publication date: 18 January 2021




The purpose of this paper is to explore the types of ethical challenges and dilemmas researchers face when engaging in family consumption research.


Drawing from the concept of micro-ethics to bridge reflexivity with ethics in practice, the paper provides a reflexive account of the various ethical dilemmas encountered by two family consumption scholars during their fieldwork. Both researchers conducted qualitative research on family meals.


The paper reveals five types of ethical tensions that can arise when doing research on family consumption. These tensions are addressed as display, positioning, emotional, practical and consent dilemmas, all of which have ethical implications. The findings unpack these dilemmas, showing empirical and reflexive accounts of the researchers as they engage in ethics in practice. Solutions and practical strategies for dealing with these ethical tensions are provided.


Despite the growing interest in interpretive family research, there is less attention on the ethical and emotional challenges researchers face when entering the family consumption scape. As researching families involves entering an intimate area of participants’ lives, the field may be replete with tensions that may affect the researcher. This paper brings the concept of micro-ethics to family marketing literature, showing how researchers can do ethics in practice. The paper draws on reflexive accounts of two researchers’ personal experiences, showing their emotional, practical, positioning and display challenges. It also provides practical strategies for researchers to deal with dilemmas in the field.



The authors would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their constructive feedbacks. They would also like to thank Professor Sameer Hosany for his insightful comments on the initial version of the manuscript.


Khanijou, R. and Pirani, D. (2021), "Ethical dilemmas in studying family consumption", Qualitative Market Research, Vol. 24 No. 1, pp. 32-46.



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