Ethical and political issues in contemporary research relationships
This article discusses how ethical and political issues affect contemporary research relationships. It focuses on the responsibilities of researchers studying organisations and elites, and the discussion draws upon the author’s experience of researching NHS primary health care services. The paper reviews the spread of “ethical guidelines” from medical to social research. Such guidelines primarily address ethical problems relating to individual researcher-researched relationships. Sociologists have criticised the application of medically-based guidelines to social research, while often accepting an ethical framework based on the researcher-researched dyad. But this limited conception of ethical responsibilities leaves complex organisational power hierarchies and their effects under-theorised. Researchers may then be vulnerable and lack guidance where organisational loyalties and market mechanisms have undermined the traditional supports of academic independence and professionalism. Sociologists could learn from critical medical scientists’ responses to some related ethical dilemmas, as some medical researchers have experienced these issues more acutely and for longer.
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