[URBANTH-L]IRB vows and woes

Tricia Redeker Hepner trhasina at yahoo.com
Mon Apr 2 10:45:54 EDT 2007

Does anyone know whether or not there has been a 'movement' of sorts to revise or amend IRB procedures in ways that are more consistent with social scientific research? I am talking about something more extensive than having a social scientist or two sitting on an IRB, although obviously that is enormously helpful. 
  I came through the process at U of Tennessee just recently and it was considerably complex. Frankly, my impression was that the procedure was designed not so much to protect my research 'subjects' (who fall into a more-vulnerable-than-usual category) but rather to protect the university itself; the IRB was much more concerned with how data would be stored and moved around and for how long, than with the kinds of questions I would ask and for what purposes. The consent form has become so long and cumbersome that I'll be amazed that people will even read it. I even had to provide translations which the committee will send out for back translations. The IRB also wanted privacy laws and consent procedures from institutions I am affiliated with in Germany and South Africa -- my colleagues there were quite shocked at what is required in the US of anthropologists, although certainly biomedical research is carefully vetted in those locations. As one colleague in Germany put it
 rather flatly, 'IRBs [as constituted in the US] are the death of ethnographic research.' 
  This discussion is enormously important, and I do hope we see something at AAA and other associational meetings. But more importantly, I'd like to see a concerted movement spearheaded by AAA, in coalition with other social science organizations using similar methods as anthropologists, to develop a parallel IRB or set of IRB regulations, that is not dominated by biomedical and hard sciences. Does such a movement exist?  If not, how could we get one started?

                        Tricia Redeker Hepner, Ph.D.
  Assistant Professor of Anthropology
  University of Tennessee, Knoxville
  Country Specialist, Eritrea, Amnesty International USA
  "Betri HaQis teQeTen ember aytseberen"--Tigrinya Proverb
(The rod of truth grows thin but does not break)

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