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Session and Workshop Abstracts

Session 2E (S2E) - Abstracts

Ethical research constraints in the COVID-19 era

Paper 1: Ethical dilemma in virtual research during COVID 19 

Speaker(s): Suparna Bagchi

Keywords:  ethical dilemma, virtual research, teacher-researcher dynamics, children’s voice


Abstract: COVID 19 has invaded the world for almost a year. Universities, with their extensive technological resources, have moved to a predominantly online platform, which is economical, flexible, and convenient (Davis et al., 2019). In this paper, I would discuss the ethical challenges that the online platform poses to qualitative researchers like me who are undertaking virtual research studies. Research should be guided by strong ethical principles and necessary precaution against emotional harm to all participants. We have seen research undertaken directly with children via Skype (Webber, 2020). However, it is different when a researcher must research virtually based on teacher-conducted classroom activities, which would have been otherwise conducted by the researcher with the children in normal times. The situation becomes difficult when the research involves sensitive topics with minors. While there is sufficient interaction with teachers, the schools have granted limited access to the children, thus placing me in a largely invisible and formal position.


The research requires children’s active involvement as equal collaborators in the meaning-making of their lived experiences (Clark and Moss, 2011). Ethically speaking then, can just a few introductory video clips by the researcher be effective and honest enough to strike a familiarisation with the students? The researcher faces another ethical dilemma that whether a virtual presence as a mere spectator can ensure that the minors are sensitively and impartially treated. Student-teacher relationships are based on strong hierarchical power relationships. In such a situation, how do principles of power transform into principles of communication, and how do the principles of communication monitor differently the kinds of awareness concerning their replication and probabilities of change? (Bernstein, 1996:18, cited in Daniels, 2016:102). The teacher possibly has to be careful not to influence and objectify the children so that they can express their feelings fully, no matter how contrary these might be to the research questions (Creswell and Creswell, 2017; Leeson, 2014). This will enable the children’s voices to “form a central and equally considered part of any evidence base which concerns them” (Pascal and Bertram, 2009:255). The researcher needs to recognise that a teacher’s role is different from a researcher’s role, which might bring in variations in the entire research process. Mutual trustworthiness and negotiated ethics become the essential criteria in this teacher-researcher collaborative venture. While there are valuable resources available informing about techniques to research virtually, it is also important to discuss their ethical dimensions. 



Paper 2: Ethics of Interspecific Research During the Covid-19 Pandemic

Speaker(s): Tiamat Warda

Keywords: Anthrozoology; Covid-19 Pandemic; Research design; Interspecific interlocutors.


Abstract: Students beginning their PhD or MA in 2020 were and are continuing to be faced with the complications of redesigning and conducting their research during the Covid-19 pandemic. For many, this has resulted in unique ethical considerations compared to their original, in-person fieldwork, in particular, perhaps, those researching nonhuman animals. 

This paper addresses the question: How can interspecific, qualitative research be altered to ethically bring in the nonhuman animal interlocutors in their own right? It is based on qualitative, anthrozoological research which explored the emotional labour of guide dogs and their instructors, adding the additional complication of studying emotion from a distance. 

The discussion is based on autoethnographic data from the researcher’s own experiences navigating this pandemic environment. Participant observations can act as an undeniably valuable method within multispecies ethnographies. Therefore, before beginning the data collection process, a virtual alternative (Zoom interviews) to in-person observations of both human and other animal interlocutors was sought to offer meaningful, anthrozoological outcomes. 

Findings suggest that the ethics of excluding the voices of nonhuman animals in pandemic and perhaps post-pandemic research, due to travel restrictions, is essential to consider when presenting research findings which represent and can ultimately impact them. However, while there are ethical considerations which can speak against such a data collection practice, it has the potential to benefit nonhuman animal interlocutors. In addition to allowing for longer interviews, as interviewees were at home, multiple interviewees expressed that the questions they were asked had caused them to question their work and guide dog colleagues in a way that they had not in their, at times, twenty-five years practising the career. 

This paper suggests that such reflection might have been caused, in part, by the almost one year which the interlocutors spent in isolation, experiencing heightened emotions, while most of the global population was questioning and contemplating most aspects of their life and relations with others. For qualitative social scientists, especially for anthrozoologists, faced with entirely redesigning their approach to data collection, such ethical considerations are essential to address.

Paper 3: Brave Zoom World: the ethics of conducting engaged, interdisciplinary research at a distance.

Speaker(s): Virginia Thomas

Keywords: Ethics, Engaged research, Interdisciplinary research, Physically distanced research, Technology, Transparency

Abstract: From ‘Feed the Birds’ to ‘Do Not Feed the Animals’ was designed as an experiment in ‘engaged research’ (Holliman, 2017), in which collaboration across disciplines and with third sector partners would be fostered via regular sociality and shared problem-solving. The project was predicated on in-person contact, sociability and working with objects in archives and museum collections across the country. Like so many things, however, the project has been profoundly disrupted by COVID-19. In this paper, I discuss our experiences of this disruption and the creative redesign of the project in the face of the ongoing uncertainties of the pandemic, the need to safeguard the health of all involved and, most particularly, the ethical considerations and challenges of conducting engaged research at a distance and in the midst of a pandemic.


This involves adapting the project over time according to the changing conditions we find ourselves in, taking into account the ethical considerations of working with the old and new technologies adopted by the project, and efforts to remain open and transparent despite the limitations of our currently isolated and potentially insular situations. In addition to this, given that the project is highly interdisciplinary and brings together researchers from the humanities and the natural and social sciences, we need to understand and adapt to the different approaches to ethics across disciplines and integrate new, enhanced ethical policies into our research. In doing so we seek to become fluent in the ethical concerns of other disciplines, thus enhancing our individual literacy in research ethics and developing a model for ethics in interdisciplinary research. 


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