Research Ethics and Human Subjects: A Reflexive Openness Approach
American Political Science Association Organized Section for Qualitative and Multi-Method Research, Qualitative Transparency Deliberations, Working Group Final Reports, Report I.2 (August 2018)
21 Pages Posted: 15 Feb 2019
Date Written: February 12, 2019
The foremost ethical obligation and therefore the first duty of scholars is the ethical treatment of people affected by our research, particularly its human subjects. Our working group's report discusses the implications of the primacy of the ethical treatment of human participants – our term for "human subjects" – for empirical research in political science. Although research ethics encompasses a broader range of issues (including honesty, integrity, competence, and the respectful treatment of students and colleagues, among others), we focus on the primacy of human participants both because the human costs of violating this obligation are likely much higher than, for example, plagiarism, and because this principle may conflict with evolving norms of transparency in the social sciences. We acknowledge that "transparency" frequently has benefits, but nonetheless focus on the tensions between it and the primary obligation to human subjects and other ethical obligations in a wide range of research contexts, including settings of violence and repression. To support our ethical positions, we advance a broad and distinct approach of "reflexive openness" that incorporates sustained reflection on the ethics of research practices, what ethnographers term "reflexivity." This approach has three important elements. First, it promotes ongoing reflexivity by the author vis-à-vis her research participants. Second, it encourages all scholars to provide a reasoned ethical justification of their research practices, especially when seeking to publish their analysis. Finally, the ethical expectations guiding reflexive openness are universal, and thus the approach is inclusive of researchers regardless of subfield, methodology, topic, and empirical context.
Keywords: qualitative methods, research transparency, research ethics, human subjects, reflexivity, Qualitative Transparency Deliberations
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