Risk-Aversion or Ethical Responsibility?

Towards a New Research Ethics Paradigm


  • Stephen Jacobs University of Wolverhampton
  • Alan Apperley University of Wolverhampton




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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Author Biographies

  • Stephen Jacobs, University of Wolverhampton

    Stephen Jacobs is Senior Lecturer in Media, Religion and Culture. He is currently the Chair of the Faculty of Arts Ethics Committee at the University of Wolverhampton. He has recently published The Art of Living Foundation: Spirituality and Wellbeing in the Global Context (Ashgate 2015). Although his main interests is focused on the intersection between religion and popular culture, his current research is an ethnographic study of the environmental movement.

  • Alan Apperley, University of Wolverhampton

    Alan Apperley is a Senior Lecturer in Media, Communication and Cultural Studies at the University of Wolverhampton. He has published variously on the history of political thought (Hobbes; Rousseau) and aspects of contemporary political theory including the concepts of personal autonomy, political liberalism and liberal democracy. His current research interests include Public Service Broadcasting and its role in a democratic society, the idea of ‘sharing’ in social media, and the generation of public value in the context of both broadcasting and Higher Education. His first novel – Indeterminate Creatures – was published by Tindal Street Press in 2010.


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How to Cite

Jacobs, S., & Apperley, A. (2018). Risk-Aversion or Ethical Responsibility? Towards a New Research Ethics Paradigm. Fieldwork in Religion, 12(2), 148-162. https://doi.org/10.1558/firn.35665