Experiencing everyday ethics in context: Frontline data collectors perspectives and practices of bioethics
Data collectors play a vital role in producing scientific knowledge. They are also an important component in understanding the practice of bioethics. Yet, very little attention has been given to their everyday experiences or the context in which they are expected to undertake these tasks. This paper argues that while there has been extensive philosophical attention given to ‘the what’ and ‘the why’ in bioethics – what action is taken place and why – these should be considered along ‘the who’ – who are the individuals tasked with bioethics and what can their insights bring to macro-level and abstract discussions of bioethics. This paper will draw on the philosophical theories of Paul Ricoeur which compliments a sociological examination of data collectors’ experiences and use of their agency coupled with a concern for contextual and institutional factors in which they worked.
In emphasising everyday experiences and contexts, I will argue that data collectors’ practice of bioethics was shaped by their position at the frontline of face-to-face interactions with medical research participants and community members, alongside their own personal ethical values and motivations. Institutional interpretations of bioethics also imposed certain parameters on their bioethical practice but these were generally peripheral to their sense of obligation and the expectations conferred in witnessing the needs and suffering of those they encountered during their quotidian research duties.
This paper will demonstrate that although the principle of autonomy has dominated discussions of bioethics and gaining informed consent seen as a central facet of ethical research by many research institutions, for data collectors this principle was seldom the most important marker of their ethical practice. Instead, data collectors were concerned with remedying the dilemmas they encountered through enacting their own interpretations of justice and beneficence and imposing their own agency on the circumstances they experienced. Their practice of bioethics demonstrates their contribution to the conduct of research and the shortcomings of an over-emphasis on autonomy.
Kingori P. (2013) Experiencing everyday ethics in context: Frontline data collectors perspectives and practices of bioethics, Soc Sci Med. 2013 Dec; 98: 361–370