[URBANTH-L]a question concerning methods/ethics

Bascom Guffin mbguffin at ucdavis.edu
Thu Jul 30 11:52:10 EDT 2009

Following from David Houston's point, and this entire discussion, it  
seems to me that the entire IRB system, at least as it pertains to  
most ethnographic and sociological work, needs to be revisited. In my  
neck of the woods, at least, we deal with a highly medicalized idea of  
human subjects research - one that, as some of you have pointed out,  
basically strips informants of any real sense of agency. At the same  
time, as Robert Lawless points out, information that anthropologists  
gather can and has been used in ways that endanger and even sacrifice  
the lives and livelihoods of informants and their communities. The  
discussion we're having here tells me that there is a strong need for  
an alternate, non-medicalized set of ethics around human subjects for  
the kind of work we tend to do, one that will reasonably protect  
individuals and communities while not sacrificing their own agency  
within the inherently collaborative endeavor of ethnography.


Bascom Guffin | PhD Candidate
Department of Anthropology
University of California, Davis
mbguffin at ucdavis.edu

On Jul 30, 2009, at 7:09 AM, David Houston wrote:

> You raise an interesting point.
> I've been indirectly asked - "hinted" might be the term.
> At the same time, I *know* the IRB I am under would be horrified and,
> while I have not scoured the volumes that they have that detail every
> modicum of "what I must do and not do", I would be surprised if  
> there were
> NOT something in their rules that specifically enjoins me from using  
> real
> names under any circumstances.
> Thus, my response to informants is not one of "you just don't  
> understand"
> but rather "I might get into trouble if I did that".  I would not  
> expect
> that they've read the "rule book" on this when I may not have read  
> it all
> myself!
> Having said that, this discussion is something that would be really  
> useful
> to try and bring into the whole IRB process.  Are we NOT being  
> ethical if
> our informants specifically ask that their name(s) be used?  And if  
> that's
> the case, is it the jurisdiction of the IRB to simply overrule  
> that?  If
> they do, aren't *they* violating ethical boundaries?
> 	David Houston
> 	University of Vermont
> 	Phone: (802) 656 2013
> 	**
>        "You are nestled in our hearts forever"
>        **
> On Thu, 30 Jul 2009, Brian L Adams-Thies intoned:
> BLA:Just to play devil´s advocate......I am a bit concerned that the  
> notion that
> BLA:informants don´t understand how or in what manner their  
> information will be
> BLA:used is in itself highly problematic.    Informants are just as  
> capable of
> BLA:understanding the repercussions of their participation as we, the
> BLA:anthropologists, are.    Assuming that informants are somehow  
> less imbued
> BLA:with the logical capacity of understanding their decision smacks  
> of
> BLA:colonialism/power/domination.   In this world we live in I think  
> it very
> BLA:difficult to assume we, as anthropologists, are privvy to  
> possible outcomes
> BLA:to which our informants remain oblivious.
> BLA:
> BLA:With that said, I think what everyone who has responded so far  
> is indicating
> BLA:is that this decision is contextual.    We should be explaining  
> the risks of
> BLA:using real names and engage in an extended conversation with  
> informants
> BLA:about this decision.   If, after that conversation, an informant  
> demands
> BLA:that their name be used then I don´t see how we can ethically  
> anonymize
> BLA:them.
> BLA:
> BLA:These thoughts are also off the top of my head and I am sure  
> there are
> BLA:people much more qualified to speak to the issue.
> BLA:
> BLA:All my best,
> BLA:
> BLA:Brian L. Adams-Thies, PhD
> BLA:Assistant Professor - Anthropology
> BLA:Department for the Study of Culture and Society
> BLA:Drake University
> BLA:Des Moines, IA
> BLA:Email: Brian.Adams-Thies at drake.edu
> BLA:Phone: 515.271.2936
> BLA:----- Original Message ----- From: "Bascom Guffin" <mbguffin at ucdavis.edu 
> >
> BLA:To: <URBANTH-L at lists.ysu.edu>
> BLA:Sent: Wednesday, July 29, 2009 11:09 PM
> BLA:Subject: Re: [URBANTH-L]a question concerning methods/ethics
> BLA:
> BLA:
> BLA:> I would say that in the case of B (she/he doesn't care), I  
> would still
> BLA:> anonymize the informant. If they specifically ask that their  
> names be
> BLA:> mentioned, it becomes a tougher call. I know of one person who  
> had DJs  as
> BLA:> informants, and many of them asked that their real names (at  
> least  their
> BLA:> real DJ names) be used, because they saw it as an opportunity   
> for
> BLA:> publicity. In this case, you might consider using their real  
> names  to be
> BLA:> a sort of reciprocation for the time and effort they've put  
> in  to helping
> BLA:> you out. But this researcher still ended up anonymizing  their  
> sources,
> BLA:> because informants made statements that the researcher   
> determined could
> BLA:> be controversial. There may have been other aspects  to the  
> researcher's
> BLA:> reasoning as well. If the informants are public  figures, other
> BLA:> considerations might also apply, in that there may be  good  
> reason to use
> BLA:> their real names, especially if it is overly  difficult to  
> hide their
> BLA:> identities. All this is off the top of my  head, and I am sure  
> there are
> BLA:> other members of the list who have given  this much deeper  
> thought, and
> BLA:> been directly faced with these practical  considerations. I  
> too would be
> BLA:> interested to hear what folks have to  say.
> BLA:>
> BLA:> Best,
> BLA:> Bascom
> BLA:>
> BLA:> ----------------
> BLA:> Bascom Guffin | PhD Candidate
> BLA:> Department of Anthropology
> BLA:> University of California, Davis
> BLA:> mbguffin at ucdavis.edu
> BLA:>
> BLA:>
> BLA:>
> BLA:> On Jul 24, 2009, at 9:41 AM, Fethi Keles wrote:
> BLA:>
> BLA:> > Friends,
> BLA:> >
> BLA:> > I would like to receive opinions on the following issue, if  
> possible.
> BLA:> >
> BLA:> > What most everyone does when we write things up is to change  
> names  and
> BLA:> > use pseudonyms etc. etc. But, what do you do if an informant  
> a)
> BLA:> > specifically asks to be identified with his/her actual name  
> in your
> BLA:> > study (book, article whatever) b) says s/he doesn't care/ 
> wouldn't  mind
> BLA:> > if you were to use his/her actual name?
> BLA:> >
> BLA:> > I feel the answer to this must be more than 'well go ahead  
> and do as
> BLA:> > s/he says', for there could be a whole lot of other  
> implications if  one
> BLA:> > does so. Any readings you would suggest? What courses of  
> action  would
> BLA:> > be on the table in the two cases above?
> BLA:> >
> BLA:> > Any thoughts will be appreciated. Thank you.
> BLA:> >
> BLA:> > Fethi Keles
> BLA:> > PhD Candidate in Cultural Anthropology
> BLA:> > Maxwell School
> BLA:> > _______________________________________________
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> BLA:>
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