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Ethical Research Involving Children

Consuming images, ethics, and integrity in visual social research.

Lomax, H. (2020). Consuming images, ethics, and integrity in visual social research. In R. Iphofen (Ed.), Handbook of Research Ethics and Scientific Integrity (pp. 899-915). Switzerland: Springer International Publishing. ISBN: 978-3-030-16760-8.

Chapter Description: The use of images in social research can be traced to the mid-twentieth-century sociological inquiry of John Collier and Pierre Bourdieu and the anthropological film and photography of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson who sought to understand culture by making it visible. More recently, rapid developments in digital technology have extended the range of visual methodologies and the diversity of visual material available for research. Contemporary visual methods encompassing participatory video, collaborative cellphilms, photo-voice, and photo-elicitation reflect an increasingly dynamic digital visual culture and offer new possibilities for researchers to illuminate social issues. However, alongside the potential of these, new visual methods and technologies have arisen a number of ethical challenges. Rapid transformations in the ways in which images are produced, communicated, and consumed within a new digital visual and media landscape have outpaced developments in research governance and codes of practice. Moreover, the democratization of research in which research participants share in the production of research troubles traditional research hierarchies and decision-making about what gets seen and shared while the potential of digitized images to circulate beyond the immediate temporal and spatial confines of research calls into question the appropriateness of formalized ethical frameworks based on principles of anonymity and confidentiality.

This chapter sets out an alternative approach based on a feminist ethics of care, which seeks to know well and know responsibly. This relational approach marks a departure from ethical decision-making founded on absolutist principles which may undermine participants moral rights such as the right to be acknowledged in research. In considering ethical decision-making as a form of responsible knowing, care-based ethics foregrounds the contextual, emergent nature of ethical decision-making in which the potential harms and benefits are considered within the context of each unique research relationship framed by an understanding of the wider social and political landscape. Examples from contemporary research are drawn upon to illustrate how researchers might navigate the specific challenges engendered by visual research in which the boundaries, for example, about what could and should be revealed in the generation and dissemination of research, are being rapidly redrawn.

(Abstract reproduced with permission © Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2020).

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