Presentation on theme: "Access and Ethics in Visual Research Week 15 Lynne Pettinger"— Presentation transcript:
Access and Ethics in Visual Research Week 15 Lynne Pettinger
Outline 1.Why ethics matter 1.When ethics matter a.The ethics of representation b.The ethics of interpretation c.The ethics of looking: doing research with photographs 2.Ethical codes 1.Harm 2.Informed consent 3.Deception 4.Privacy 5.Distortion 3.Situated ethics 4.Access
1. Why ethics matter
what is it about contemporary society that makes us focus on ethics? –Why so much formalisation of ethical rules and norms? Risks. –Do models developed for medical or psychological research practices work well for sociology? –We must pay attention to the specifics of research practices and research relationships embedded in different methodologies. What does‘ethical research’entail? – How should we treat people on/with whom we conduct research? – What is it in/appropriate for us to engage in when researching people? –Ethics matters at all stages of research design: Data gathering Data interpretation representation
Ethics in Social Research Think through ethics by considering both: Detached ethics: There are formal codes, rules and regulations. Situated ethics: we must look at what’s happening in each moment. No easy or simple answers – rules have limits A definite need to reflect on the specifics of each situation and make considered judgements
An Unethical Past e.g. Stanley Milgram: Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View Philip Zimbardo: The Stanford Prison Experiments The Tuskegee Syphilis experiments Kenneth Walton: the fry up Laud Humphreys ‘tea room trade’ ‘hit and run’ research
2. A Photographer’s ethics
The epistemological status of photographs Do photos represent an unproblematic depiction of an underlying reality? What do we know of the origin and derivation of the photo? what are the ethical implications of saying yes? and if we say no? What kind of semiotic power do photographs have – how do they represent something more than what they literally depict? Does the staged nature of photographs complicate their ability to accurately convey a social setting or activity?
Ethics of representation Reflect on last term’s discussions of representation, looking and aesthetics. Sontag (early work) ‘aesthetic consumerism’ is not ethical and political knowledge. Sontag (later work) it is ‘a good in itself’ to have seen traumatic images: ‘this is what human beings are capable of doing – may volunteer to do, enthusiastically, self- righteously. Don’t forget.’ (Regarding the pain of others: 115)
Ethics of interpretation Audiences the past and the present Sontag again (On photography): the ethical content of photographs is fragile. They rely on context and understanding to make sense and to speak to us as viewers.
Ethics of looking Make visible the lives of the previously silenced – Those whom historically have been ignored or marginalised Can give more insights into the world we examine. BUT What impact does a camera have?
The anthropologist’s eye Portraits of Indians from Southeastern Idaho Reservations, 1897 Benedicte Wrenstead The Smithsonian
Ethics and looking with ethnography Long history of ‘realist’ visuals in ethnography: conventional ethnography uses photos to enhance data capture and communicate findings (Collier and Collier 1986). Photos can provide a more ‘natural’ account – i.e. we can see things as they are This is because photos have an indexical function that allows: – Detailed observational records – Field notes – Rich data in visual form, including: visual inventories; visual surveys and resurveys – An aid to interviewing
Data of A Different Order Data that is ‘rich and thick’ Vividness of detail The capacity to capture tenor and feel To humanize research subjects Street children, Kinshasa, Marcus Bleasdale
BUT Ethical challenges ‘in the field’ – Who gets photographed, by whom, what say do they get in the interpretation and publication of these images? Ethics of using images – what say do they get in the publication of images? – Images escape their intended uses (and circulate on the internet)
Ethics and participatory methods Get a ground-up view of your respondent’s world Respondents construct an account of their experience Recognises that images are meaningful. Reconfigure power relationships as you can’t assume that you’re the only one who knows: “A shocking thing happens in this interview format; the photographer, who knows his or her photograph as its maker... suddenly confronts the realization that she or he knows little or nothing about the cultural information contained in the image.” (Harper, 1998: 35)
BUT As with ethnographic uses, benefits are not always straightforward – A partial story but carries the illusion of completeness. – Selective framing and absences need considering – Excess of ‘data’ (images)
Ethics and non-participatory methods Outsider views: seeing differently Seeing what the respondents can’t see Photographer's ethics and social research ethics combine. BUT Power is with the person who wields the camera and chooses the images.
3. Ethical codes
Ethical information for social researchers: International Sociological Association: British Sociological Association: ESRC: C_Re_Ethics_Frame_tcm pdf C_Re_Ethics_Frame_tcm pdf
For visual researchers visualsociology.org/about/ethics-and- guidelines.html visualsociology.org/about/ethics-and- guidelines.html The BSA Study Group on Visual Sociology tement.php tement.php Do visual methods require a different attention to ethics?
ESRC: Research Ethics Framework ■ Research should be designed, reviewed and undertaken to ensure integrity and quality ■ Research staff and subjects must be informed fully about the purpose, methods and intended possible uses of the research, what their participation in the research entails and what risks, if any, are involved. Some variation is allowed in very specific and exceptional research contexts for which detailed guidance is provided in the policy Guidelines ■ The confidentiality of information supplied by research subjects and the anonymity of respondents must be respected ■ Research participants must participate in a voluntary way, free from any coercion ■ Harm to research participants must be avoided ■ The independence of research must be clear, and any conflicts of interest or partiality must be explicit
From BSA guidelines: Relations with and Responsibilities towards research participants Personal and moral relationships with participants carries responsibilities The quest for knowledge should not override the rights of respondents. The reporting of research matters too: what use might 3 rd parties put results to?
What kind of harms do sociologists cause? Anxiety, stress, trauma during and after research Reputational damage Troublesome memories brought to mind Irritation Inflicted insight Damages caused by differences in power and status – We often study the powerless (and we are quite powerful) – Some groups are very hard to study because of their powerlessness.
Harming participants? What assurances of anonymity and confidentiality would work here?
The Key Ethical Principle: Informed consent Informed consent is the central principle of contemporary ethical practice (e.g. consent to medical treatment) “a responsibility on the sociologist to explain in appropriate detail, and in terms meaningful to participants, what the research is about, who is undertaking and financing it, why it is being undertaken, and how it is to be disseminated and used.” (BSA ethical guidelines)
Underlying informed consent What does informed consent mean? –The respondent has autonomy, is recognised as an individual who can say what does and does not happen in their life –The respondent can make decisions and is neither coerced nor deceived. Given this: tell people what you’re going to do and they can choose.
And if you can do this... Go ahead! What you need to do: –Work out how to explain your research –Talk it through with EACH participant –Get them to sign the informed consent sheet; make sure they consent to being interviewed/studied; being recorded/photographed and being written about.
Is it that easy? Giving participants enough information for informed consent – may be easier said than done? Do photographs raise the standard of consent? Are researchers usually justifiably ‘economical with the truth’? Covert research removes the need to secure informed consent, but carries its own ethical challenges
A critique of informed consent Are we autonomous, rational, decision making individuals? –How ‘free is the consent? –How informed is the consent? –Can you ever be truly informed? Are the protections (of anonymity, confidentiality) enough to avoid harm?
Privacy Is a photograph inevitably an invasion of privacy (more so than other data)? Does informed consent justify this? Consent is usually contingent or partial What about those who are photographed but who don’t give their consent? What about the difference between being in public and in private?
Brick Lane. Les Back project. This man was given a photograph of himself as a thank you. But he didn’t know we’d now be looking at him.
An invasion of privacy? Photo: from Phil Mizen project on street children in Ghana
Confidentiality Source: Dant, 2010
Note: anonymisation of logos AND faces how does the blurring affect how we read the images?
Deception Conscious deception is almost always to be avoided A researcher who presents themselves as something other than they are: –‘I’m here to take some photographs’. Is some measure of deception commonplace to social research?
Altered Images Photographs are not always what they seem always question the veracity of the image? Images have always been altered but digital technology has made this easy; as has the capacity to spot doctored images (Pauwells 2007) Honesty in relation to the context of their production (staging e.g. Harper, Rieger, Prosser) Clarity in relation to manipulation of images
4. Being ethical
Situated ethics "I used the term "detached ethics" to describe a morality that is characterised by the agent's attempt or claim to abstract universal principles from specific ethical decisions made in particular context" (Vivat, 2002: 241). "I understand situated ethics to be characterised by the agent paying explicit attention to the particular situation and to the consequences for the relations between those involved, and by an absence of interest in making universal claims, although the agent may still appeal to abstract principles of both justice and care." (Vivat, 2002: 240)
Reflexivity reflexivity “opening the way to a more radical consciousness of self in facing the political dimensions of fieldwork and constructing knowledge.... reflexivity becomes a continuing mode of self-analysis and political awareness." (Callaway, 1992: 33). Understanding your own impact
Reflexivity and the Visual Reflexivity (knowledge is contextually dependent) is especially important for visual methods When we introduce photography we must consider: – ‘Procedural reactivity’ – our research procedures modify ‘natural’ behaviour (esp. cameras) – ‘Personal reactivity’ – our personal values shape the knowledge we generate (Prosser 1998)
What to research and where? Research setting selected on theoretical/substantive basis Setting appropriate to the substance and theory – what knowledge is required? But convenience, feasibility & quality are important: time, resources, likelihood and worth
The Need to Gain Access Obtaining access can be the most challenging part of research Ways of gaining access through: –‘Gatekeepers’ – significant individuals who can grant access –Sponsors – those willing to underwrite or validate research –Existing connections – someone you know on the inside Access is not necessarily a ‘one-off’: it may require frequent renegotiation
Access and Visual Research A camera may raise the stakes – the visual as immediate record Photography may aid access (e.g. Collier and Collier 1986) Photography may be ‘normal’ or expected (Pink 2002)
An access check-list knowing people who can help with access: friends, relatives, colleagues, academics getting someone from within the setting/organisation to act as support/champion identifying ‘gatekeepers’ – those who have the power to allow you access – and getting their agreement reciprocity and promising something in return – for instance, a summary of your research findings that might help them to understand better the workings of their organisation a clear statement of aims and methods negotiation be up-front and confident about the place of photography in the research honesty and ethical integrity
Do cameras make access more challenging? Photos: Phil Mizen
conclusion As far as I am concerned, one can be ethical or one can conduct social research, but one cannot be both ethical and a researcher in such settings. I'll opt for the label of researcher. I'm prepared to take my lumps" (Wolcott, 2002: 145) Pragmatism and being good Conforming to discipline conventions
Extra references Dant, T. (2010) ‘The work of repair: gesture, emotion and sensual knowledge’. Sociological research online. 15 (3) 7 Bella Vivat (2002) "Situated Ethics and Feminist Ethnography in a West of Scotland Hospice" in Bondi et al subjectivities, knowledges and feminist geographies. Rowman and LIttlefield. Harry F. Wolcott (2002) Sneaky Kid and Its Aftermath: Ethics and Intimacy in Fieldwork.. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 2002.