Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Autoethnographer Finds REB Review Intimidating

Lee Murray describes getting REB approval for her doctoral research at the University of Saskatchewan. Though she was able to devise a proposal that passed the committee "without taking away from what I want to accomplish," she was left feeling she "would not want to make the journey again."

[Lee Murray, Debbie Pushor, and Pat Renihan. “Reflections on the Ethics-Approval Process.” Qualitative Inquiry 18, no. 1 (January 2012): 43–54. doi:10.1177/1077800411427845.]

Murray's plan was to "describe, explore and analyze my own personal and professional experiences and perceptions as a mother, clinical nurse specialist, and advocate for children with developmental disabilities." (This from her archived application at TEAR.) As if "children" and "developmental disabilities" were not by themselves sufficiently bright red flags, Murray planned to write about the experiences of her own developmentally disabled son, who suffered sexual abuse.

Knowing that the REB could kill her project, Murray dreaded each step of the process:

I feel stressed but not anxious. My heart should be beating at 200/min but it’s not. I feel uptight but have no signs of helpful adrenaline surging through my veins. Maybe I am just too tired. Maybe, on days like today, I doubt myself and what I am doing. Maybe the pain of my experience is too much with all these difficulties layered on top. It would be much easier to give up and surrender. Maybe it is the realization that I won’t surrender that keeps me going.

I comment to Debbie how surreal this moment feels and she concurs. At this moment, I don’t know how to think, feel, or act. It seems like I am just going through the motions, yet in a few minutes, I will be required to defend my proposal to a group of people who may not understand the complexities of autoethnography and the resulting ethical issues.

Compared to other horror stories, Murray's depicts a fairly benign committee that seemed willing to learn. Still, she suggests that the power of the REB is itself a problem:

There is currently a sense, perhaps more perceived than real, but a palpable sense that the REB is a gatekeeper for what research will be done. How can we reposition REBs, instead, to assume a role as supportive and facilitative of research, particularly research that involves sensitive stories and vulnerable populations?

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