‘Nothing about us without us’: the ethics of outsider research

Part of the Philosophy and Education book series (PHED, volume 10)


The relationship between researcher and researched has become a matter of intense controversy in a number of apparently very different contexts. These have, nevertheless, certain key features in common: they are all contexts in which groups of people who define themselves ‘disempowered’59 resist the ‘intrusions’ of researchers from outside their own community or at least the current terms of such intrusion. In the recent literature these groups have included: women, people with disabilities, gays and lesbians and indigenous people in societies dominated by white former colonialists60. Cases have been made out of, and on behalf of, each of these communities that are critical of research into their experience conducted by people from outside their communities. It is argued, a fortiori, that research into this experience should be conducted by people from within the community. ‘Nothing about us without us’ is, for example, the striking slogan that has emerged from the disability camp (see Charlton 1998), while in New Zealand there is a growing body of Maori educational researchers whose motto might be encapsulated as ‘by Maori, in Maori, for Maori’ (Marshall and Martin 2000 — see also on this Marshall and Peters 1989, Peters, Para and Marshall 1989 and Marshall and Peters 1995). In this chapter I shall explore more closely the nature of these arguments and the ethical and epistemological costs of sustaining them. I shall argue for the importance of retaining a role for outsider research in such communities, though one which must operate under appropriate ethical constraints and on the basis of proper human respect and care.


Educational Research Educational Researcher Practitioner Research Epistemological Argument Utilitarian Principle 
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  1. 59.
    More accurately, some of their members define them as disempowered; not all would necessarily agree. Dangerously perhaps, I shall take this self-designation as given for the purpose of this discussion. I shall even resist the temptation to examine the notions of empowerment and disempowerment. These are usefully discussed in relation to educational research in Morwenna Griffiths’ book Educational research for social justice 1998).Google Scholar
  2. 66.
    Somekh (1995) tends to emphasise the collaborative and social rather than the individualistic nature of action research, but I don’t think this altogether undermines my point.Google Scholar
  3. 67.
    Walford offers an interesting collection of reflections on this experience in Researching the powerful in education (1994).Google Scholar

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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2003

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