Qualitative Sociology

, Volume 33, Issue 2, pp 161–183 | Cite as

Autonomy and Compliance: How Qualitative Sociologists Respond to Institutional Ethical Oversight

  • Judith TaylorEmail author
  • Matthew Patterson


Prevailing sociological understandings of institutional ethical review tend to homogenize faculty responses to them, and are predominantly speculative. In this research, we conduct interviews with sociologists from 21 Ph.D.-granting departments across Canada, finding three predominant “ethics orientations” among them, with associated cognitive maps and strategic actions. In our analyses, we use these orientations to complicate homogeneous appraisals of social researchers’ responses to new bureaucratic requirements, enriching our understanding of how such requirements affect the ways sociologists think about their occupation, approach their research, and mentor successive generations. These ethics orientations suggest the field of sociology is comprised of distinct political cohorts with diverging understandings of ethical review, and by extension, power and intellectual work. For some, ethical review signals a more consultative and therefore better approach to knowledge production, while for others it marks the end of an era of unfettered (and superior) intellectual pursuit in sociology.


Ethical review Sociology Qualitative research Bureaucracy Strategy 



This research was supported by a grant from SSHRC of Canada. We are grateful to the faculty members who participated in our study and hope this article is of interest and use to them. Thanks to Kari Dehli, Val Jenness, Susan Silbey, and Suzanne Staggenborg for comments and encouragement, and to the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology at Dalhousie University, especially Howard Ramos, for providing us with both a welcoming forum for presenting initial findings and thoughtful feedback. Our gratitude to Joanne Nowak for conducting and transcribing the French interviews. The paper is dedicated to Howard Becker, Mitch Duneier, and Harvey Molotch, the first author’s methods instructors.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

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