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Essentials of Thinking Ethically in Qualitative Research (Qualitative Essentials)

Hoonaard, Professor Will C Van Den and Hoonaard, Deborah K Van Den

Left Coast Press, (2013)
ISBN: 9781611322057 (pb)

Reviewed by Linda Asquith,

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Cover of Essentials of Thinking Ethically in Qualitative Research (Qualitative Essentials) Ethics in research are often viewed as a singular hurdle to be cleared, particularly through the eyes of students undertaking their first research project. This book emphasises that research ethics is better conceived of as a process to be engaged in throughout the duration of a project highlighting the continuous nature of engaging in the ethics process. It focuses on the "lived experience of researchers as they undertake the challenging task of making ethical judgements fit with their research and vice versa (p.8). Split into three parts, the book considers the strategies of qualitative research, followed by a section considering the different contexts of research, and a final section discussing engagement with formal ethics review frameworks.

The introduction to the book highlights the overall approach to research ethics, noting that qualitative research is borne out of anthropology, an approach which originally sited the research subject as 'other'. Once this approach was rejected, a new way of thinking needed to be developed, one which acknowledged the inductive nature of research and participants' status in the research relationship. This leads on to a discussion of the essential considerations of confidentiality, anonymity and consent, reinforcing the point that students should understand the difference between anonymity and confidentiality. In addition, the authors make a very valuable point when discussion consent, arguing that informed should be an ongoing process rather than a singular event, with participants having control over their data the whole way through the project. Moreover, this introduction brings to the fore the challenges that the tension between law and ethics can produce, drawing on the recent controversy of the Boston College research on the IRA as an illustration of the limitations of academic freedom, and the struggle between 'law first' and 'ethics first' approaches.

The first substantive section of this book deals with the strategies of qualitative research and how to manage situations ethically. Importantly, this book covers the more recent challenges of internet research and photo elicitation, with internet research in particular is becoming very popular with undergraduates. This new area of research poses unique ethical challenges, especially when considering the process of informed consent, given that the internet blurs the distinction between public and private spheres. Hence, this section is essential reading for anyone engaging in online research, an area which due to the complexity of approaches, needs clear ethical parameters for any project. Finally, this section explores the nature of covert research, arguing that there is much confusion between 'covert' research, and research that involves 'deception', making the point that covert research falls into an entirely different research strategy than that of deception. The authors provide a brief illustration of the long history of covert research and argue that it is possible to undertake covert research ethically and responsibly.

The second part of this book covers the contexts and settings of research, focusing on people in vulnerable contexts and research within health settings. In doing so, the authors argue that we should not stereotype particular groups of people as 'vulnerable'. Drawing on a wide range of literature, the authors illustrate how a researcher should be reflective and reflexive, responding to the specific situation of the participant. In addition, the wide discrepancies between the way researchers, schools, parents and agencies approach research with children are noted, and this chapter provides valuable suggestions which should be considered when approaching research with child participants. Moreover, the chapter discusses research in institutions, and explores the unique challenges of confidentiality and consent, questioning how employees of an organisation give informed consent if their employer has requested the research be undertaken; hence there may be little room for truly 'voluntary' participation.

The final section is quite short in terms of discussion, but provides three useful appendices, covering online resources, sample information letters and a guide to further reading. The main thrust of this final section is the engagement with formal ethics review frameworks, noting the challenges that such review boards may bring, such as changing membership, research which deviates from the norm and how ethics committees may be 'moulded' to a particular way of seeing. Importantly, the authors gives due consideration to the notion of 'ethics lag' wherein policies are outstripped by the routines and challenges of everyday life, and the challenges of responding to new research styles and methods, thus linking back to the discussions in the first part of the book which considered internet and photograph elicitation research. Overall, this book is a timely and valuable contribution to the topic of research ethics, and is one that should be read by beginners and seasoned researchers alike.

Linda Asquith, Nottingham Trent University