Unethical ethics? Reflections on intercultural research practices
The notion that there is a universal ethics is commonly supposed, but less often explicitly discussed, in protocols for ethical procedures in research. In this article, the authors reflect on their action-research with women farmers in a Bolivian highland province. Their project aims to propose ways in which local health services could better serve these women’s expressed sexual and reproductive health needs. A series of field experiences led the authors to question the adequacy of pre-established institutional protocols for informed consent. Cultural understandings in this context made for situations where supposedly ethical procedures led to unethical effects. While recognising the value of precautionary measures to avoid abuse of research subjects, the authors challenge the assumption of subjects’ essential vulnerability in fieldwork relations. They found that they too, as researchers and outsiders to the community, could be assigned less than adult status by research subjects seeking empowerment in their own terms. The paper concludes that consent protocols, rather than relying on standardised procedures, should provide flexible alternatives to facilitate negotiation with subjects about whether and how they will participate at different stages of a research project.
Mulder, S. S. et al (2000) Unethical ethics? Reflections on intercultural research practices, Reproductive Health Matters Volume 8, 2000 – Issue 15: Reproductive rights, human rights and ethics