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Ethics of Ethnography

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Handbook of Research Ethics and Scientific Integrity

Abstract

The ethical issues relevant to social research take distinctive forms in the case of ethnography. One reason for this is that it involves entering the territories of others, rather than inviting them into that of the researcher (for the purposes of carrying out an experiment or an interview, or administering a questionnaire). Participant observation in “natural” settings is usually involved, taking place over weeks, months, or even years. Also significant is the flexible character of ethnographic research design, which means that only quite limited information can be provided at the start of data collection, when access is initially being negotiated, about exactly what the research will entail. A further distinctive feature is that relatively close relationships are established with some research participants, setting up obligations of one kind or another. Furthermore, these people and their activities are described in detail in ethnographic reports, with the result that they may be identifiable – at least by those who know the setting investigated. In this chapter, some of the central commitments of research ethics – minimizing harm, respecting autonomy, preserving privacy, and offering some reciprocity – are examined as they arise in ethnographic work. In particular, the issue of informed consent is considered. This is a common requirement in the context of ethical regulation, but there are difficulties involved in achieving it in ethnography, and its appropriateness is sometimes open to question.

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Correspondence to Martyn Hammersley .

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Hammersley, M. (2020). Ethics of Ethnography. In: Iphofen, R. (eds) Handbook of Research Ethics and Scientific Integrity. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-16759-2_50

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