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Ethical Dilemmas and Moral Conundrums

Negotiating the Unforeseen Challenges of Ethnographic Fieldwork

Jocelyn D. Avery

Many anthropologists will be required to gain ethics approval in order to begin their research. Prior to commencing, though, it is not always possible to predict what will happen in the field, or how you as the researcher will react, much less to incorporate all possible safeguards in an ethics application. My research was conducted at a special education needs college with the aim of discovering the sense of self of students with intellectual disabilities. I underwent a lengthy and complicated ethics approval process and gained associated external approvals. As my research evolved in the field, I became interested in strands of enquiry that without care could have potentially breached my ethics guidelines. New questions could suggest to staff that I was doing something other than stipulated in their consent documents. The ethics approval process can help refine the research methodology and analysis; however, it cannot prepare us for the moral conundrums that arise in the field.