[URBANTH-L]RE: a question concerning methods/ethics

Ellen Moodie emoodie at illinois.edu
Thu Jul 30 12:57:32 EDT 2009

As an IRB member and ethnographer, I would suggest that the only issue that matters here is the risk/benefit ratio. If you can effectively argue on your application for board approval that the benefits outweigh the risks, then no responsible IRB has the right to prohibit using people's names--if, that is, your consent arrangements allow people to agree to that use, and research participants have been informed of those benefits and risks. Often there are very few risks to using people's names. 

As the director of my IRB wrote me:

"There isn't anything in the federal regulations that addresses this directly, but they do refer to this with respect to waivers of documentation of informed consent www.hhs.gov/ohrp/humansubjects/guidance/45cfr46.htm#46.117):

        (c) An IRB may waive the requirement for the investigator to obtain a signed consent form for some or all subjects if it finds either:

                (1) That the only record linking the subject and the research would be the consent document and the principal risk would be potential harm resulting from a breach of confidentiality. Each subject will be asked whether the subject wants documentation linking the subject with the research, and the subject's wishes will govern....

Usually the  waiver described here is for studies about illegal activity or when even just the knowledge that a person was in a research study (e.g., Alzheimer research, bi-polar disorder research) would put the individual at risk. But in this case the regulations say if a person wants to be identified the researcher can-- in fact [the researcher] must [identify him or her]."

---- Original message ----
>Date: Thu, 30 Jul 2009 08:07:55 -0700
>From: David Levinger <dlevinger at gmail.com>  
>Subject: Re: [URBANTH-L]RE: a question concerning methods/ethics  
>To: Fethi Keles <fkeles at maxwell.syr.edu>, "URBANTH-L at lists.ysu.edu" <URBANTH-L at lists.ysu.edu>
>Here is another devil's advocate position.  When I reflect upon my own work,
>I can see that it has *served me* to anonymize the source for three key
>   1. It strengthens my ability to generalize from the specific.
>   2. In doing so, I prevent access to my informants--making me an
>   obligatory point of reference for the study and precluding anyone from
>   getting to the source of the material without going through me.
>   3. My narrative obtains a paternalistic authority via the very act of
>   naming.
>Actually, the informants in my work are frequently identifiable and not
>protected by IRB policy.  I do my work in the public realm of transportation
>systems where the informants are frequently public servants.  I offer them
>the right to have their accounts remain anonymous, but because of this
>conversation, I am reconsidering that stance.
>Fethi, thank you for a great discussion!
>-----Original Message-----
>> From: urbanth-l-bounces at lists.ysu.edu [mailto:
>> urbanth-l-bounces at lists.ysu.edu] On Behalf Of Fethi Keles
>> Sent: Friday, July 24, 2009 11:41 AM
>> To: URBANTH-L at lists.ysu.edu
>> Subject: [URBANTH-L]a question concerning methods/ethics
>> Friends,
>> I would like to receive opinions on the following issue, if possible.
>> What most everyone does when we write things up is to change names and use
>> pseudonyms etc. etc. But, what do you do if an informant a) specifically
>> asks to be identified with his/her actual name in your study (book, article
>> whatever) b) says s/he doesn't care/wouldn't mind if you were to use his/her
>> actual name?
>> I feel the answer to this must be more than 'well go ahead and do as s/he
>> says', for there could be a whole lot of other implications if one does so.
>> Any readings you would suggest? What courses of action would be on the table
>> in the two cases above?
>> Any thoughts will be appreciated. Thank you.
>> Fethi Keles
>> PhD Candidate in Cultural Anthropology
>> Maxwell School
>David Levinger |  206-390-8118
>URBANTH-L mailing list
>URBANTH-L at lists.ysu.edu

Ellen Moodie
Assistant Professor

Department of Anthropology
University of Illinois
109 Davenport Hall
607 South Mathews Avenue
Urbana, IL 61801
(217) 244-7849

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