Access, a Zone of Comprehension, and Intrusion: Volume 12

Cover of Access, a Zone of Comprehension, and Intrusion

Table of contents

(14 chapters)
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To comprehend some meanings of a life, one must get close to that life. But if one gets too close, one risks violating its privacy. Personalistic researchers in education, social service, and related fields take that risk. Historians, biographers, social workers, and many others do too. These researchers negotiate access to the lives they study. They feel the ethical responsibility to avoid exposé and sometimes even to refrain from coming to know the most personal and private information. Restraint is greatly based on the researcher's personality and respect for others. But also it is a professional matter. The codes of ethics and honored practices of researchers call for restraint.

In the earliest decades of anthropological fieldwork in the late nineteenth century, fieldwork relationships with informants appear to have been anything but overly close. The stereotype of the anthropologist in the American Southwest is that of a white man who sat on the steps of the trading post and paid Indians to tell him words in their language. Attempts were made to elicit information on kinship systems through direct and imperious questioning: “What do you call your mother's brother?” The analogous British and German stereotypes were of those who sat on the verandah of the local colonial officer's house, conducting themselves similarly with “the natives.”

Privacy is a highly valued ideal in western societies and the researcher is usually expected to protect the privacy of the researched. However, real world fieldwork experiences are highly complex and the researcher can often find their private life encroached upon. The chapter uses the authors’ own field experiences to discuss this complexity. Lee-Treweek focuses upon her research experience with disabled children living in rural England and Bourne-Day on projects with refugee and asylum seekers in Staffordshire, England. Their discussions reveal that more often than not, privacy issues in the field often interconnect researcher and the researched.

The chapter discusses the uniqueness of qualitative research that does not allow meeting the terms of consent as they are applied in traditional, positivist research with pre-defined goals that aim to validate hypotheses.

It is proposed adopting an ethics that promotes trust-based, reflective and dynamic relations between researchers and participants, centering on caring, humanity and concern. The suggested alternative approach views consent as an ongoing process that takes place throughout the entire course of the study; responsibility for protection of participants is expected of participants too, and is not the duty of researchers alone; mutuality must take place in the form of an ongoing, continuous dialogue; it is in order to consider fair recompense for participants too, thus reducing the one-sidedness of the research interest, and the chances that participants will decide to withdraw before completion of the study.

Privacy is a broad concept that encompasses spatial, psychosocial and moral dimensions. The author draws on two examples of ethnographic studies to highlight privacy concerns. She frames the discussion by using the categories of physical, informational, proprietary and decisional privacy. The first study of a case of life support withdrawal after severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) raises four key points: (1) cultural norms in the setting dictate practices and perceptions of invasions of privacy, (2) dual roles allow access to private spaces, (3) the topic of the research can itself be a private matter and (4) inadvertent lapses in privacy are possible even with careful consideration and safeguards. The second study which is an ongoing examination of long-term adjustment to TBI in Kolkata, India raises a different set of issues: (1) differences in norms regarding physical privacy need to be negotiated, (2) the signing of consent forms can feel intrusive to persons unfamiliar with this process, (3) privacy and trust are inextricably linked and (4) norms of disclosure also affect the researcher. Recommendations are made for negotiating the complex nature of privacy and intrusion in ethnographic work.

I want to read the controversies and scandals surrounding Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) within a critical pedagogical, discourse. Ethics are pedagogies of practice. IRBs are institutional apparatuses that regulate a particular form of ethical conduct, a form that may be no longer workable in a transdisciplinary, global, and postcolonial world. I seek a progressive performative cultural politics that enacts a performance ethics based on feminist, communitarian assumptions. I will attempt to align these assumptions with the call by First and Fourth World scholars for an indigenous research ethic (Smith, 1999; Bishop, 1998; Rains, Archibald, & Deyhle, 2000). This allows me to criticize the dominant biomedical and ethical model that operates in many North American universities today. I conclude with a preliminary outline of an indigenous, feminist, communitarian research ethic. This ethic has two implications. It would replace the current utilitarian ethical model that IRBs utilize. It argues for a two-track, or three-track IRB model within the contemporary university setting.

As an Indigenous researcher, I have had many experiences with contemplating and negotiating access among Indigenous populations. Having Indigenous heritage does not provide automatic access to Indigenous people and communities for research. Instead, my role as both insider and outsider complicates the research process. This chapter first offers an historical framework for research issues of access, privacy, and intrusion among Indigenous communities, and then I discuss how Indigenous researchers are redefining the research process and its benefits for their own communities, including how one university academic department in Native American Studies is teaching issues of and methods for Indigenous research.

Sub-Saharan businesses share resemblance with contemporary post-modern organisations in the western world by blurred divisions between job and non-job activities. Ethnographic immersion then means that negotiations of trust and rapport take place across arenas ranging from business meetings till bars. The ethno-informed approach shows flirtation as a finely tuned interaction collaboratively constituted that may prolong field relations and access to a variety of data. This constitutes the background to the discussion of the dilemmas of good rapport.

I claim that flirtation should be regarded a resource the ethnographer can draw upon, but one that demands an awareness of negotiating alternative identities as buffer towards delicate or troublesome dimensions in field relations.

When the editors suggested that I write something on “access”, “intrusion”, “risk of violation of privacy”, based on my own experience and work, I was at a complete loss for how to respond. To me, these kinds of questions should not even come up. If it comes to a point where an interview or observation involves what the participant perceives as an intrusion or infringement on privacy, or when maybe unexpectedly there occurs a violation of confidentiality, my first reaction would be to find out what I had done wrong and examine my own basic principles and actions in the situation. Each human interaction is a two-way affair, and the researcher/evaluator has generally many more responsibilities in it than the participant.


Pages 187-192
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Sabar holds the Joanne and Haime Constantiner Chair for Jewish Education at Tel Aviv University. Her fields of specialization are Jewish education, curriculum development and qualitative research methods and in particular its ethical aspects. Prof. Sabar is the recipient of the “Tel Aviv award” for research in Education for the year 2005.

Cover of Access, a Zone of Comprehension, and Intrusion
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Advances in Program Evaluation
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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