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.
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.
Dr. Patty A. Gray
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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