22 March 2010

Ethics and social research assignment

I have just completed the first assignment of the semester.

The task was to do a summary/abstract on a prescribed chapter in my course reader.

There were a few chapters to choose from, and because I have only briefly touched on ethics in my Masters course in an assignment for journalism, and I believe ethics will play an important role in successfully completing my thesis, I focused on ethics.

I chose to summarise Ethics and Social Research by Allan Kellehear.

You can find this paper by Kellehear in the book Doing Fieldwork: Eight personal accounts of social research by John Perry.

The paper is an account of the ethical dilemmas of 'interfering with people'. It reminds us that research is not just about gaining data to obtain a degree or to get published. Research affects the participants in positive and negative ways. It can be traumatic for participants to share their story with the researcher. And there is a responsibility of the researcher to minimise harm to the participant. It was also interesting to read that an ethical dilemma for the researcher is to responsibly disseminate the research findings, often to honour the wishes of the participants.

The research that Allan Kellehear undertook was aimed at understanding the way the lives of people altered when they found out they were going to die very soon. He wanted to understand and document the varied social experiences associated with dying.

Kellehear interviewed 100 terminally ill cancer patients with less than 12 months to live.

He not only encountered traumatic situations when interviewing the cancer patients, but also he received personal criticism from hospital staff - accusing him of being cruel and voyeuristic.

I'm not going to rewrite my full summary here (though here I summarised the entire paper in about one quarter of the words that I used in my assignment!) - I recommend you find this paper online and read it for yourself. It really is interesting.

We were only required to concentrate two chapters for this assignment - summarising one and situate it in a scape of research by mentioning the other - so I have not looked up the actual research findings. I'm really keen to do so, and think it may be relevant to my thesis. I am really pleased I did this assignment.

I so enjoy the way study opens up my eyes to the world and challenges me to think about concepts differently.

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