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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Survey on ethnographers' experiences of institutional ethics oversight

G'day from Australia! I am an American anthropologist based in Sydney,
and I am conducting a study that aims to understand ethnographers?
subjective experience of ethics oversight in 5 English-speaking
countries. I'm running an online survey that asks people to date when
they recall becoming aware of local requirements to get ethics committee
approval for ethnographic research, and the extent to which they comply.
I'm hoping that I will get a large enough scale of responses to enable
me to map out the timing of the wave when anthropologists started to
submit to the oversight of ethics bureaucracies in different parts of
the world.

This project comes out of my own experiences as an undergraduate in
Canada and a graduate student in the U.S. in the 90s. When I first left
for the field, nobody I knew was getting ethics approval for their
dissertation fieldwork, though we did have to talk about research ethics
with a local departmental committee. But by the time I came back from
the field, graduate students were all getting formal ethics committee
approval before starting research. For a long time, I felt furtive,
like I had somehow failed to do something that I was supposed to do, and
I wondered whether I would ever be accused of unethical research
practice (even though I didn?t think I had been unethical in my
research). I didn?t understand that it was a changing era.

Now that I have a bit more perspective, I?m interested in knowing
more about other researchers? experiences of this process. I hope to
compare the attitudes of researchers who spent most of their careers not
seeking ethics clearance, a younger generation for whom it has always
been standard, and those who started their research under one regime and
now live under another.

I'd be very grateful if you would circulate the below link to faculty
and grad students from your department who have done or are preparing to
do ethnographic research. The survey is available online at
I've timed it, and the survey takes between 10-15 minutes, depending on
how detailed your responses are (one grad student for whom English is a
second language reported that it took her 12 minutes to complete). So it
won?t take much of your time. (I hate it when people send me surveys
that they say will take 10 minutes and they actually take 45 minutes!)

All responses will, of course, be anonymous, and I'll report aggregate
results on the Culture Matters blog
( Please contact me if you
have any questions about this study or survey instrument.

Many thanks,
Lisa Wynn, Department of Anthropology, Macquarie University

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