Friday, June 5, 2009

Lisa Wynn's Words and Pictures

In April I commented on the ethics training program for ethnographers developed by Lisa Wynn of Macquarie University with some colleagues.

At Culture Matters, the blog of the Macquarie anthropology department, Wynn described the ideas that led her to develop the program.

Now, at Material World, a blog hosted by the the anthropology departments of University College London and New York University, Wynn describes another aspect of the training program: the pictures.

Wynn explains that along with its medical-centered ethics and jargon-laden text, the standard NIH ethics training program suffers from clip art in which people are depicted as faceless cartoons--probably not the best way to get researchers thinking about others as autonomous individuals. So for her program, Wynn offers pictures of real researchers and research participants, from Laud Humphreys to Afghan school administrators.

Gathering these photos--about a hundred in all--wasn't easy, but they contribute meaningfully to the warmth and depth of the site. And it put Wynn in touch with some prominent scholars.

[Side note: Professor John Stilgoe tells his students that it's rare to have enough photos of yourself at work. That's a good admonition; you never know when someone will want to show you doing controversial research.]

In another posting on Culture Matters, Wynn describes her continuing research on research ethics. She notes that ethics-committee oversight of ethnography is a relatively recent phenomenon. While it was debated as early as the mid-1960s, only in the 1990s did it become widespread. Thus, in studying the effect of ethics committees,

We’ve got a perfect “natural” control: an older generation of researchers who spent most of their careers not seeking ethics clearance, a younger generation for whom it is standard operating procedure, and a “middle-aged” group of researchers like myself who started their research under one regime and now live under another (I swear, this is the first time I’ve thought of myself as middle-aged). By correlating responses with different regulatory regimes, we can ask questions like: do researchers who never got ethics clearance have different ideas about what is ethical than researchers who go through ethics review? Does one group consider itself more or less ethical than the other? Or do they feel like ethics oversight hasn’t made any difference to their research practice?

Wynn plans to contact scholars in Australia and the United States to see how the spread of ethics review affected ideas about research ethics. I'm quite excited by this work; in fact, I plan to publish it in a special issue of the Journal of Policy History I am editing on the general topic of the history of human research ethics regulation.

How many pictures should I demand?


L.L. Wynn said...

Zach! What a nice post. I just came across it. Can you believe that I still haven't applied for ethics approval to do that embodied ethics project? I just got so swamped by the past semester. But it's over now, and that's on my to-do list this week. Fingers crossed for quick approval from our Ethics Committee! You've given me such great ideas for how to develop this project and the right questions to ask.

And speaking of ethics oversight, I've just posted something else on Culture Matters about the way I negotiated pre-approved ethics clearance for my students to do their own research projects....

Zachary M. Schrag said...

Editor's note: The Culture Matters post is online at . It's good reading, and I hope to comment on it at some point.