Patty A. Gray ffpag at uaf.edu
Sat Mar 31 18:11:01 EDT 2007

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 getting
my 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 
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 have
dealt with their institution's reviewboards and how they have managed to 
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
Tel. (907) 474-6188
Fax (907) 474-7453

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