[URBANTH-L]a question concerning methods/ethics

galey modan gmodan at gmail.com
Thu Jul 30 17:34:39 EDT 2009

It's worth pointing out that using pseudonymns is not a given, obvious
ethical practice, but rather a disciplinary convention; while
anthropology promotes the use of pseudonymns on ethical grounds,
folklore, for example, *discourages* the use of pseudonymns on equally
ethical grounds -- namely the reasons that Lisa and others mentioned
-- reciprocity, giving credit where credit is due, etc. There's not a
standard IRB approach, either. Since I'm at a school with a lot of
folklorists, the IRB is used to getting proposals in which people are
using real names, and it does not have a policy one way or the other
-- you have to justify whatever choice you make.  Although I usually
use pseudonymns, in cases where I was analyzing verbal art, and the
person let me reproduce long segments of a piece (which was not
copyrighted), I felt that using a pseudonymn would have backgrounded
his authorship and authority, and also have lent less authority to the
verbal art itself, so I used his real name.

Rather than assuming that one should use pseudonymns except in certain
cases, or that one should *not* use pseudonymns except in certain
cases, it's something that should really be well thought-through for
every specific case. Although I lean towards pseudonymns because of my
training, I recognize that they don't in reality provide so much
anonymity -- generally anyone who knows a community well enough will
be able to identify both places and people despite the use of
pseudonymns. Also, using pseudonymns can lure us into being less
careful than we could be about thinking through the implications of
the evaluations we make of people's behavior. In levying criticism,
it's easy to be harsh and brash if we imagine ourselves hiding behind
the cloak of anonymity. If we take away that cloak, it can prod us to
think about how to make a criticism as if we're making it to someone's
face, which can lead to a more humanizing and complex characterization
of somebody whose actions we're criticizing.


Gabriella Modan
Associate Professor of Sociolinguistics
Department of English
The Ohio State University
modan.1 at osu.edu

On Thu, Jul 30, 2009 at 12:06 AM, <Calliope77 at aol.com> wrote:
> Hi Fethi,
> I have never actually had a participant specifically ask to use their real
> name. If it did happen, I would likely discourage it. First, I don't think
> an  IRB would approve of it. Also, the participant may not be aware of
> future  consequences or repercussions of using their real name. They may not be
> aware of  who will be able to access the study, where it may appear in future
>  publications, etc. While it may depend on the research topic, I likely
> would  tell my participant that I am ethically obligated to use pseudonyms.
> However, I  have not seen any formal information on this. It is an interesting
> question.
> Marni Finkelstein
> In a message dated 7/29/2009 9:40:17 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time,
> fkeles at maxwell.syr.edu writes:
> 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
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