quetzil castaneda quetzil at osea-cite.org
Mon Apr 2 19:55:19 EDT 2007

At 12:01 PM 4/2/2007, you wrote:
>  Yet, I am struck that
>students in the humanities (and, to be honest, I have never asked faculty
>about their own reviews) can adopt "cultural studies" projects involving
>interviews and observation in sometimes problematic situations with no
>review whatsoever.

HAH!  GREAT Point!
however much I would like to say yes, lets make 
them suffer this process as well, I would rather 
focus my own concerns on a different aspect of 
the IRB.  What has also always disturbed me is 
the absolute authority over the "life or death" 
of students, their research projects and their 
ability to succeed in their projects.

I am familiar with one masters student who had 
designed an ethnographic research project 
involving interviewing homosexuals and fieldwork 
in bar/club settings for observation of 
sexuality/dating (I forget what else, it was 10 
years ago).  The homophobic reactionary chairMAN 
(a sociologist) of the IRB that year determined 
that it would be far to "dangerous" to conduct 
interviews with such persons in such locations 
and strictly forbid this as part of the 
research.  The risks apparently to the subjects 
and to the researcher (who was also a gay man) 
were too huge .... The chairman of the 
anthropology dept., who also happened to be gay 
-- who lived in this "dangerous" part of town and 
even ran a consulting/social work enterprise in 
the neighborhood -- was totally ineffective in 
reversing this arbitrary, absurd, discriminatory, 
and ultimately violent decision.  finally the 
student was unable to conduct his research as 
conceived. He was only allowed to do research in 
a totally mangled and virtually non-ethnographic 
manner on issues that had nothing to do with what 
he was interested in or that had any 
relevance.  The project was reduced to a 
sociological survey (which happened to fit the 
intellectual-theoretical paradigm of this quantifying sociologist).   .

If this man had not been on the board, this 
problem would not have existed. Certainly, this 
is not the first time that any one has 
encountered zealots on the IRB --- that is 
persons who dispense their task with iron-clad 
compliance to rules without any recognition 
whatsover of special situations/contexts. Further 
such persons typically combine this with an 
irresolute discrimination against particular 
projects (precisely because of their "special" 
circumstances) that manifests in excessive and 
debilitating scrutiny, demands for rewrites of 
protocols, and even the re-designing of 
research.   My only surprise in the case that I 
mention is that this sociologist has not since 
conducted a research project based on the 
student's initial proposal.  (Indeed, what 
mechanisms are there to prevent THAT?!)

the arbitrary and total control of any given IRB 
committee in any given year is way out of 
control.  Faculty have the ability to protest and 
put pressure on a committee by calling in favors 
here and there or figure out other ways to fill 
out the forms to the letter while conducting 
research in a completely ETHICAL manner (even if 
at variance to IRB technicalities).  sTudents on 
the other hand can be viciously destroyed, their 
projects mutilated by threats that the 
institution will with hold stipends, tuition waivers, degrees, grades, etc..

What kinds of administrative oversight and 
management exist -- or, can be created -- to 
counter balance this capriciousness of 
IRBs?   This is a slightly different but related 
point made about the need to educate one's own 
institutional boards.  Certainly that is 
necessary, yet the lessons learned may only have 
a shelf life based on the tenure of specific 
committee members.  it seems that a system needs 
to be created that can protect students from 
having their projects dismantled -- or worse, stolen!


>Gary McDonogh
>Program in Growth and Structure of Cities
>Bryn Mawr College
>URBANTH-L mailing list
>URBANTH-L at lists.ysu.edu

Quetzil E. Castañeda, Ph.D.
Founding Director, OSEA
Visiting Professor, Spring 2006-Spring 2007
Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Indiana University

quetzil at osea-cite.org
812.327.5845  cell
812.669.1369 office
Skype account name: quetzil

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