The ethics of engagement

Research relationships in an applied linguistics partnership with a professional medical body


  • Sarah Atkins Aston University



Ethics, Relational ethics, Partnerships, Research relationships, practitioner collaboration


This paper considers the ethical dimensions of interprofessional research relationships in applied linguistics, an area that has perhaps received less attention than other types of engaged research in the field. As a discipline, applied linguistics has considered how research can be conducted ethically with participants, mindful of benefiting those who are the subjects of research. However, research in professional and institutional contexts involves complex relationships with multiple parties, where research ‘with’ different participants and professional groups raises ethical considerations about who benefits and who does not. A case study provided from a project in medical education, looking at differential attainment in an examination for UK general practitioners (GP), demonstrates these difficulties in a particularly politicised setting. Various relationships are examined in turn, from the early stages of becoming involved in local activity and establishing data collection, through to the involvement of ‘key informants’, analytic sessions with the practitioners and incorporating the perspectives of the GP trainees in developing educational interventions. Such relationships require negotiation between all parties, making it difficult for the researcher always to claim ‘independence’ and requiring ongoing ethical decisions about roles and obligations. Nevertheless, engaging in these relational activities is itself argued to be part of the ethical conduct for interprofessional research.

Author Biography

  • Sarah Atkins, Aston University

    Sarah Atkins received her PhD in Applied Linguistics from the University of Nottingham and she is currently Research Fellow at the Aston Institute for Forensic Linguistics, Aston University, UK, where she is researching ethics and professional practice in applied linguistics. Her wider research interests are in language and communication in professional contexts and she has worked on projects examining spoken interaction in healthcare, health education and the police, with a focus on the practical relevance of findings for practitioners. 


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How to Cite

Atkins, S. (2023). The ethics of engagement: Research relationships in an applied linguistics partnership with a professional medical body. Journal of Applied Linguistics and Professional Practice.