Comparative “research”: A modest proposal concerning the object of ethics regulation

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    Complementing the broader project of treating human subjects research regulation (including “informed consent”) as an ethnographic object, this article scrutinizes the category research: that about which research subjects may (in some way) be informed, to which they may (or may not) consent, and in which they may (variously) participate. What is “research”? When does it begin and end? What is the relationship between its demarcations as a regulatory object and its demarcations in the everyday practices of knowledge production? Federal research ethics regulations take for granted that research can be distinguished from nonresearch and subjected to distinctive constraints. The regulations also presume an idealized scientific method with predetermined spaces, times, personnel, and procedures. Although such clarity is difficult for many kinds of human subjects research, it is impossible for ethnographic fieldwork. A modest proposal is offered concerning with whom ethnographers might make common cause.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)305-327
    Number of pages23
    JournalPoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review
    Issue number2
    StatePublished - Nov 2007

    All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

    • Anthropology
    • Sociology and Political Science
    • Law


    • Audit culture
    • Definition of research
    • Irbs
    • Libel by fiction
    • New ethnographic objects
    • Participant-observation
    • Social and behavioral research ethics


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