SSP Seminar Series: Are research ethics regulations ethical? Exploring the relationship between “research ethics” and “ethical research”


Sonja Erikainen (University of Leeds)


Empirically oriented sociologists know (sometimes frustratingly) well that research involving human participants must undergo ethical review and secure ethical approval before it can commence. Current institutional procedures governing research ethics have their roots in major ethical declarations erected since the 1940s in response to previous gross ethics violations primarily in medical research. They centre ethical principles that also foreground social science research ethics today, including participants’ informed consent, harm prevention and risk mitigation. Indeed, research ethics governance has become increasingly formalised and standardised.

This has led some social scientists to argue that we have witnessed an “ethics creep,” where medically oriented ideas about ethical research conduct are externally imposed on social scientific research despite being ill-suited to it. While notions like “informed consent,” “risk,” and “harm” might be cross-disciplinary ethical priorities, how they are conceptualised and manifest in practice differ notably between medical- and social scientific research. Building on ethically provocative caveats from the “Patienthood and Participation in the Digital Era” project, this seminar explores the relationship between research ethics regulation and ethical research conduct. It provides opportunities to reflect on the extent to which the ethical review processes we must undergo are, themselves, “ethical.”

All welcome! There is no need to book.

Our seminar series runs weekly on Wednesday lunchtimes, from 12 noon until 1.30pm.

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