Beyond Compliance Checking: A Situated Approach to Visual Research Ethics

Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 15 (2):293-303 (2018)
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Abstract

Visual research methods like photography and digital storytelling are increasingly used in health and social sciences research as participatory approaches that benefit participants, researchers, and audiences. Visual methods involve a number of additional ethical considerations such as using identifiable content and ownership of creative outputs. As such, ethics committees should use different assessment frameworks to consider research protocols with visual methods. Here, we outline the limitations of ethics committees in assessing projects with a visual focus and highlight the sparse knowledge on how researchers respond when they encounter ethical challenges in the practice of visual research. We propose a situated approach in relation to visual methodologies that encompasses a negotiated, flexible approach, given that ethical issues usually emerge in relation to the specific contexts of individual research projects. Drawing on available literature and two case studies, we identify and reflect on nuanced ethical implications in visual research, like tensions between aesthetics and research validity. The case studies highlight strategies developed in-situ to address the challenges two researchers encountered when using visual research methods, illustrating that some practice implications are not necessarily addressed using established ethical clearance procedures. A situated approach can ensure that visual research remains ethical, engaging, and rigorous.

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