Mieka Brand MBrand at wooster.edu
Tue Apr 3 12:33:17 EDT 2007

I think if we are honest we would have to admit that it is much more insidious than just "some IRB members" trying to protect the institution.  The very structure of IRB suggests quite clearly that the real concern is not so much protecting "subjects" from researchers as it is protecting the institution from law suits.

If protecting "human subjects" were a real concern in this process, I suspect we would be having much more enlightened conversations about what, precisely, it is that we are trying to protect (and according to who's definitions), and how one might go about achieving such goals.  Questions about 'physical or psychological risks to the participants' would be replaced with terminology that is relevant to the participants themselves (not to biomedicine) and might perhaps include attention to 'cultural risks' or to offending--on any level--the people with whom we are interacting.

Most importantly, if IRB was really looking out for the participants, the whole question of consent would evolve around ensuring that they (participants) actually understand the project and its objectives and are willing to be part of it, rather than on finding ways to obtain physical (written or recorded) proof that is legally binding.  Signing a form that in effect protects the institution from legal action by participants is, in many cases, totally meaningless from the perspective of participants.  In most other cases participants are left with the distinct impression (which is correct, in my opinion) that IRB is designed to protect everyone *but* themselves.

Mieka Brand
Visiting Assistant Professor
The College of Wooster
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
mbrand at wooster.edu

>>> "Wolfe, Alvin" <wolfe at cas.usf.edu> 4/2/2007 4:46 PM >>>
Anne Lewinson put it so well, that 'exempt' does not really mean
'exempt,' and that we anthropologists should use our field diplomacy to
convince an ultra-science-oriented reviewer that we are as concerned
that the 'participants' not be harmed in the research as they are.
Actually, we might be more concerned, because some of those IRB members
seem more interested in protecting the institution than in protecting
the 'subjects.'

Alvin W. Wolfe
Distinguished University Professor Emeritus
Department of Anthropology
4202 E. Fowler Avenue, SOC107
University of South Florida
Tampa, FL  33620-8100   813-974-0794

-----Original Message-----
From: urbanth-l-bounces at lists.ysu.edu 
[mailto:urbanth-l-bounces at lists.ysu.edu] On Behalf Of Lewinson, Anne
Sent: Monday, April 02, 2007 9:47 AM
To: Elzbieta M Gozdziak; Patty A. Gray
Cc: urbanth-l at lists.ysu.edu 
Subject: RE: [SPAM] - Re: [URBANTH-L]IRB woes - Email found in subject

Hello everyone, 

I would say ditto to everything which has been said so far, and the only
reason I have chimed in is because I'm actually on the IRB at my
institution (and have been for three or four years), so I have developed
a good bit of familiarity with the process. I want to highlight an
important distinction which was pointed out, namely that 'exempt'
doesn't mean that the research doesn't need to be submitted at all to
the IRB, but rather that it is reviewed at a lower level of scrutiny
(only one committee member reads it rather than several or the full

Overall, you may need to 'educate' a behavioral/medical
science-dominated board about the relevant regulations for ethnographic
research, however if done in the right spirit (namely 'we certainly want
to protect the privacy, well-being, and dignity of the participants and
this is how I will make sure my research does so without written consent
for everything...'), it can be an amicable process. 

Best wishes to all,


Anne S. Lewinson [alewinson at berry.edu] 
Assistant Professor of Anthropology
Berry College
495010 Mount Berry Station
Mount Berry, GA  30149-5010   USA
Phone: (706) 236-5094
Fax: (706) 236-2205

-----Original Message-----
From: urbanth-l-bounces at lists.ysu.edu 
[mailto:urbanth-l-bounces at lists.ysu.edu] On Behalf Of Elzbieta M
Sent: Sunday, April 01, 2007 6:41 PM
To: Patty A. Gray
Cc: urbanth-l at lists.ysu.edu 
Subject: [SPAM] - Re: [URBANTH-L]IRB woes - Email found in subject

These are wonderful references.  I used them in many of my IRB
applications. One caveat though, NSF has an 'anthropology program' so of
course they understand better anthropological methodologies and
ethnographic methods. A multidisciplinary IRB needs more explanation.
On the other hand, I have learnt a lot from the GU IRB (as well as from
doing multidisciplinary research with collegues from social work,
psychology, etc.) and would not dream of doing a project without going
through an IRB process. I have even incorporated IRB exercises in my
applied and medical anthropology classes because I find that students
are not exposed to questions of research ethics to the extent that they
should be to enter a workforce. 

At the SfAAs last week, several of us were talking about organizing a
session for the following AAAs on ethics and IRBs.


Elzbieta M. Gozdziak, Ph.D.
Research Director
Editor, International Migration
Georgetown University
Harris Building
3300 Whitehaven St NW
Suite 3100
Washington, DC 20007
Tel: 202-687-2193
Fax: 202-687-2541
e-mail: emg27 at georgetown.edu 

----- Original Message -----
From: "Patty A. Gray" <ffpag at uaf.edu>
Date: Saturday, March 31, 2007 9:11 pm
Subject: [URBANTH-L]IRB woes

> There has been a great deal of discussion on this in recent years - I 
> think you will find plenty of support. I would recommend first of all 
> the forum in the November 2006 issue of American Ethnologist (Vol.33, 
> No.4, pp.478-548) titled "IRBs, Bureaucratic Regulation, and Academic 
> Freedom." I would direct you in particular to the article by Deborah 
> Winslow of the National Science Foundation - she demostrates the ways 
> that NSF policy supports ethnographic research, which can be useful 
> ammunition in the face of an IRB dominated by natural scientists who 
> may have difficulty understanding.
> There is also useful discussions of IRB issues in an article by Edward

> Bruner in the January 2004 Anthropology News. His advice is to work 
> steadily to educate one's IRB, while remaining cooperative. The goal 
> would be to make sure there is at least one social scientist on your 
> institution's IRB, and indeed if the IRB is reviewing social science 
> protocols, there is a strong case to be made for why social science 
> expertise is needed on the board.
> At my institution, we are lucky that we have an IRB that includes 
> social scientists and that is very understanding about the nature of 
> social science research. I find that I still have to adapt the 
> biomedically-oriented IRB application form to my own purposes - many 
> questions are simply inappropriate for ethnographic research. In those

> cases, I first explain what question should have been asked, and then 
> I answer that question. Often what I am proposing in my application 
> exceeds the ethical requirements implied by the original question, 
> such as insisting (with careful and patient explanation) that 
> requiring signed consent forms in some cases would do harm to research

> "subjects."
> You are right - most ethnographic studies should be "exempt," i.e. 
> subject only to the minimal IRB review.
> Hang in there - you really are not alone, and there are resources you 
> can draw upon.
> Patty Gray
> University of Alaska Fairbanks
> 1. IRB vows and woes (Annegret Staiger) I am running into problems 
> with our Institutional Review Board for gettingmy research proposal 
> approved. My institution, which has no social science faculty on its 
> board and is mostly reviewing pscychology, medical and technology 
> research proposals, regards participant observation as a research 
> 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 theirIRB'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 
> have dealt with their institution's reviewboards and how they have 
> managed to not let the IRB stiffle their research.
> Annegret Staiger
> Clarkson University
> --
> Dr. Patty A. Gray
> Assistant Professor
> Graduate Coordinator
> Department of Anthropology
> University of Alaska Fairbanks
> 312B Eielson Bldg.
> P.O. Box 757720
> Fairbanks, AK  99775-7720
> U.S.A.
> Tel. (907) 474-6188
> Fax (907) 474-7453
> http://www.uaf.edu/anthro
> http://www.faculty.uaf.edu/ffpag/chukotka.html 
> _______________________________________________
> URBANTH-L mailing list
> URBANTH-L at lists.ysu.edu 
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