Notes for DSDE 6320 — Research Ethics


Notes and Ideas:

What are ethics? 

What is the ethical code for your major professional organization? Is there one? 

Culturally Responsive Relational Reflexive Ethics

What would Culturally Responsive Relational Reflexive Ethics look like and be like in the Deaf community? 

p. 1400: “We propose

one’s aspirational ethical code is socially constructed (a) prior to beginning research based

on one’s epistemological framework; (b) during data collection, where ethics should be

reflected on, deconstructed, and reconstructed; and, finally, (c) when leaving the research

field and considering the process of data analysis, representation, and dissemination.”

What would you include in your aspirational code? 

(Activity: Create an aspirational ethics code.) 


How are ethics in qualitative research different from ethics in quantitative research? 

p. 93 — Ramos (1989) described three types of problems that may

affect qualitative studies: the researcher/participant

relationship, the researcher’s subjective interpretations of

data, and the design itself.

p. 94 — Kvale (1996)

considered an interview to be a moral endeavor, 

(What does that mean?) 

 p. 96 — rinciple of justice should

not further burden the already burdened vulnerable group of


What might this mean for Deaf/hard of hearing people? 

p. 96 — mplications for Researchers

Having these ethical principles in mind, those researchers

who are also clinicians should reflect on their roles as researchers

and in comparison to their previous roles as clinicians. At times,

however, researchers have to revert rapidly to their roles as

clinicians. The separation of these two roles is not easy.

Clinicians usually advise and treat clients for their complaints.

Clinicians, in this new role of researchers, should listen to

participants about what they want to say or to observe without

interfering. For someone who has been used to being in charge

or helping, this apparent passivity may cause discomfort and

some level of stress.

(Now think about yourself as educators and advocates and members of the community. How do you balance those roles and the ethical principles?)

Friendship ethics paper: 

 When is it appropriate for the researcher to lie to his or her participants?

What is the dilemma of intimacy? 

Where do you draw the line? 

p. 5:  ‘intimate insider’ primarily in relation to researchers whose pre-existing friendships (close, distant, casual or otherwise) evolve into informant relationships

—friend-informants—as opposed to the majority of existing work that deals with informant-friendships.”

p 5: intimate insider research

p.8: “intimacy–prior personal knowledge of your subject—generates a different kind of response—potentially a more detailed one.

p8: close friendship is based on mutual exchange and trust,

considerate and cooperative behaviour, w

hich often engenders a variety of qualities and responses

including honesty, empathy, respect, loyalty, affection, esteem, altruism and love.


Friendship (like

research) has rules of engagement and being an ethical friend may mean not betraying confidence

imparted. However, being an ethical friend may also at times compromise one’s research,

particularly what you allow yourself to


as a researcher and what you choose to communicate

with outsiders; that is, what you say and what you do not say.

Alice Goffman — about 20 minutes


her dissertation is not available from the Princeton library. Alas, it is now too late to obtain any additional documentation, because Goffman shredded all of her field notes and disposed of her hard drive.  Her reason, as she explained to the Philadelphia Inquirer, was to remove “the threat of being subpoenaed” for the identities of her subjects, many of whom had discussed or committed crimes in her presence.  But that does not explain destroying every single page of her notes, which presumably would have included the names or badge numbers of the zealous maternity cops. 

an accomplice in the evident commission of a major felony.  The last ten pages of On the Run are devoted to the murder of one of her closest 6th Street friends, whom she calls Chuck.  In Goffman’s telling, Chuck was shot in the head in an ongoing “war” with the rival 4th Street Boys, dying several hours later in the hospital while she sat at his bedside. 

A few days after the funeral, “the hunt was on to find the man who had killed Chuck,” whom the 6th Street Boys believed they could identify.  Guns in hand, they drove around the city, looking for revenge.  This time, Goffman did not merely take notes – on several nights, she volunteered to do the driving.  Here is how she described it:

We started out around 3:00 a.m., with Mike in the passenger seat, his hand on his Glock as he directed me around the area.  We peered into dark houses and looked at license plates and car models as Mike spoke on the phone with others who had information about [the suspected killer’s] whereabouts.

One night, Mike thought he saw his target:

He tucked his gun in his jeans, got out of the car, and hid in the adjacent alleyway.  I waited in the car with the engine running, ready to speed off as soon as Mike ran back and got inside (p. 262).

Fortunately, Mike decided that he had the wrong man, and nobody was shot that night.  But what if Mike had gotten his man, or some other man, or if he had hit a bystander?  The driver would have been just as culpable for the killing as the trigger man.

Taking Goffman’s narrative at face value, one would have to conclude that her actions – driving around with an armed man, looking for somebody to kill – constituted conspiracy to commit murder under Pennsylvania law.  In the language of the applicable statute, she agreed to aid another person “in the planning or commission” of a crime – in this case, murder.  As with other “inchoate” crimes, the offense of conspiracy is completed simply by the agreement itself and the subsequent commission of a single “overt act” in furtherance of the crime, such as voluntarily driving the getaway car.

I sent the relevant paragraphs from On the Run to four current or former prosecutors with experience in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois. Their unanimous opinion was that Goffman had committed a felony.  A former prosecutor from the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office was typical of the group.   “She’s flat out confessed to conspiring to commit murder and could be charged and convicted based on this account right now,” he said.

To her credit, although in a rather disquieting way, Goffman does not claim that she did it for science.  “I did not get into the car with Mike because I wanted to learn firsthand about violence,” she wrote.  “I got into the car because . . . I wanted Chuck’s killer to die.” Nor is she remorseful.  “Looking back, I’m glad that I learned what it feels like to want a man to die – not simply to understand the desire for vengeance in others, but to feel it in my bones,” she explained. (p. 263). That might be a revelatory passage in a memoir, or a plot point in a sequel to The Departed, but it is an alarming confession from an ethnographer. 

There is a convention of “reflexivity” among ethnographers and certain other qualitative social scientists, in which the researcher is expected to include her “perspectives, positions, values and beliefs in manuscripts and other publications.” This is considered necessary for engagement in the “processes of self-awareness and self-criticism as an intrinsic feature of the research process.”  Viewed in that context, Goffman’s reflection on her desire for “Chuck’s killer to die,” and her satisfaction with the experience, comprises a meaningful part of the whole story.  But expressing a bone-deep emotion is one thing, acting on it is quite another, and impulse control would seem to be an indispensable tool for the ethical ethnographer. 

Lay people may not appreciate the finer points of conspiracy law, but Goffman’s advisors (not to mention the Princeton IRB) must surely have cautioned her against direct entanglement in major criminality.  After 

s Humphreys’ (1970) unethical study of anonymous male

homosexual encounters suggests, ‘going native’ does not always mean that personal relationships

even sexual ones

are at their core trustworthy. Therefore, to create a safe research environment, it

is also necessary for a researcher to provide full disclosure of her aims and intent.


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