[URBANTH-L]IRB vows and woes

Deborah Pellow dpellow at maxwell.syr.edu
Mon Apr 2 09:00:28 EDT 2007

This is a problem I, my colleagues and our students all run into as
well. At Syracuse U, there are no exceptions to filing an IRB
application. Anyone working with a human population anywhere in the
world is required to file. All of us have gone through multiple drafts,
when the IRB office has been dissatisfied with the kinds of answers
we've given -- they're not full enough, they don't cover all points, and
so on. I was on the doctoral committee of an international student doing
field research in his home country, who went to the field before
approval came through and whose application was in fact not approved
until he was returning from the field. The problem here is the same
posed on the listserve -- those sitting on the IRB often don't have a
clue about anthropological fieldwork. Particularly aggravating to me is
the insistence on a consent letter, primarily because in most of my
field research I have dealt with non-literate populations and the letter
makes no sense. (Although it is also the case that when I, and I assume
any of my colleagues of students, introduce myself, I do tell the
interviewee what my project is about. This, it seems to me, is the
spirit of the process.)Call it cynical, call it pragmatic: I do the
letter, just as all of us in anthropology do the application, for the
sake of the insitutional vetting process and because we are required to
do so. 

Deborah Pellow
Professor of Anthropology
The Maxwell School
Syracuse University
209 Maxwell Hall
Syracuse NY  13244
(315) 443-4216

-----Original Message-----
From: urbanth-l-bounces at lists.ysu.edu
[mailto:urbanth-l-bounces at lists.ysu.edu] On Behalf Of Annegret Staiger
Sent: Friday, March 30, 2007 11:03 AM
To: urbanth-l at lists.ysu.edu
Subject: [URBANTH-L]IRB vows and woes

I am running into problems with our Institutional Review Board for
my research proposal approved. My institution, which has no social
faculty on its board and is mostly reviewing pscychology, medical and 
technology research proposals, regards participant observation as a
method that requires a consentforms and a full IRB proposal. This is of 
course extremely impractical, if not impossible to do when doing field 
research in a natural setting.  From colleagues I am hearing that their 
IRB's are usually providing an exemption for anthropological research, 
unless it deals with vulnerable populations.

Using this forum, I would like to find out how other anthropologists
dealt with their institution's reviewboards and how they have managed to
let the IRB stiffle their research.

Annegret Staiger
Clarkson University 

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