Risk-Aversion or Ethical Responsibility?
Towards a New Research Ethics Paradigm
Keywords:audit culture, consequentialism, ethical codes, ethnographic research, Kantianism, virtue ethics
Ethics seems to be of increasing concern for researchers in Higher Education Institutes and funding bodies demand ever more transparent and robust ethics procedures. While we agree that an ethical approach to fieldwork in religion is critical, we take issue with the approach that ethics committees and reviews adopt in assessing the ethicality of proposed research projects. We identify that the approach to research ethics is informed by consequentialism – the consequences of actions, and Kantianism – the idea of duty. These two ethical paradigms are amenable to the prevailing audit culture of HE. We argue that these ethical paradigms, while might be apposite for bio-medical research, are not appropriate for fieldwork in religion. However, because ethics should be a crucial consideration for all research, it is necessary to identify a different approach to ethical issues arising in ethnographic research. We suggest that a virtue ethics approach – concerned with character – is much more consistent with the situated, relational and ongoing nature of ethnographic research.
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