Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy

, Volume 12, Issue 3, pp 291–299 | Cite as

Rapport and respect: negotiating ethical relations between researcher and participant

  • Marilys GuilleminEmail author
  • Kristin Heggen
Scientific contribution


Qualitative research is largely dependent on building good interpersonal relations between researcher and participant. This is necessary for generating rich data, while at the same time ensuring respect is maintained between researcher and participant. We argue for a better understanding of researcher–participant relations in research practice. Codes of ethics, although important, do not address these kinds of ethical challenges. Negotiating the ethical relations between researcher and participant is paramount in maintaining ethical rigour in qualitative research. In this paper we propose concepts that can assist in understanding how the ethics of research relations are negotiated in practice; the ‘zone of the untouchable’ from the Danish philosopher, Løgstrup, is combined with the notion of ‘ethical mindfulness’. We argue how and why these concepts in tandem can heighten awareness and offer ways to address the ethically important moments in research.


Ethics in qualitative research Rapport Respect in research 



We are indebted to Lynn Gillam for her close reading of the paper and her insightful comments. We are also grateful for the helpful comments of the two anonymous reviewers.


  1. Brinkmann, S., and S. Kvale. 2005. Confronting the ethics of qualitative research. Journal of Constructivist Psychology 18: 157–181.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Dickson-Swift, V., E.L. James, et al. 2006. Blurring boundaries in qualitative health research on sensitive topics. Qualitative Health Research 166: 853–871.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Dickson-Swift, V., E.L. James, et al. 2007. Doing sensitive research: What challenges do qualitative researchers face? Qualitative Research 73: 327–353.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Duncombe, J., and J. Jessop. 2002. ‘Doing rapport’ and the ethics of ‘faking friendship’. In Ethics in qualitative research, ed. M. Mauthner, M. Birch, J. Jessop, and T. Miller, 107–122. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  5. Ellis, C. 2007. Telling secrets, revealing lies. Relational ethics in research with intimate others. Qualitative Inquiry 131: 3–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Etherington, K. 2007. Ethical research in reflexive relationships. Qualitative Inquiry 135: 599–616.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Fangen, K. 2004. Deltagende observasjon [Participant observation]. Oslo: Fagbokforlaget.Google Scholar
  8. Finlay, L. 1998. Reflexivity: An essential component for all research? British Journal of Occupational Therapy 6110: 453–456.Google Scholar
  9. Fog, J. 2004. Med samtalen som udgangspunkt [With the conversation as basis]. Copenhagen: Akademisk Forlag.Google Scholar
  10. Gordon, D.F. 2005. Getting close by staying distant: Fieldwork with proselytizing groups. In Ethics and politics in fieldwork, vol. III, ed. C. Pole, 326–345. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  11. Guillemin, M., and L. Gillam. 2004. Ethics, reflexivity and ‘ethically important moments’ in research. Qualitative Inquiry 102: 261–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Guillemin, M., and L. Gillam. 2006. Telling moments: Everyday ethics in health care. Melbourne: IP Communications.Google Scholar
  13. Hammersley, M., and P. Atkinson. 1995. Ethnography. Principles in practice. London: Tavistock.Google Scholar
  14. Hem, M.H., K. Heggen, et al. 2007. Questionable requirement for consent in observational research in psychiatry. Nursing Ethics: An International Journal for Health Care Professionals 141: 41–53.Google Scholar
  15. Koch, T., and A. Harrington. 1998. Reconceptualizing rigour: The case for reflexivity. Journal of Advanced Nursing 284: 882–890.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Kvale, S. 2006. Dominance through interviews and dialogues. Qualitative Inquiry 123: 480–500.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Løgstrup, K. E. 1956/1999. Den etiske fordring [The ethical challenge]. Oslo: J W Cappelens Forlag a.s.Google Scholar
  18. Løgstrup, K.E. 1997. System og symbol. Essays system and symbol. Essays. Copenhagen: Gyldendal.Google Scholar
  19. Mason, J. 1996. Qualitative researching. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  20. McGraw, L., A. Zvonkovic, et al. 2000. Studying postmodern families: A feminist analysis of ethical tensions in work and family research. Journal of Marriage and the Family 621: 68–77.Google Scholar
  21. Riessman, C.K. 2005. Exporting ethics: A narrative about narrative research in South India. Health: An Interdisciplinary Journal for the Social Study of Health, Illness and Medicine 94: 473–490.Google Scholar
  22. Warr, D. 2004. Stories in the flesh and voices in the head: Reflections on the context and impact of research with disadvantaged populations. Qualitative Health Research 144: 578–587.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Whyte, W.F. 1984. Learning from the field. A guide from experience. London: Sage.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Health and Society, School of Population HealthUniversity of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia
  2. 2.Institute of Nursing and Health Sciences, Section for Health Sciences, Faculty of MedicineUniversity of OsloOsloNorway

Personalised recommendations