Many of us who engage in research with children, especially in diverse contexts of the world, often struggle with ethical concerns. In response to this, a group of international researchers has been developing an international set of guidelines and considerations for ethical research with children. The document “Ethical Research Involving Children: International Charter and Guidelines” is being authored by Anne Graham, Nicola Taylor, and Mary Ann Powell, who engaged in a wide consultative process in which many international researchers were able to contribute and give feedback. The document along with an accompanying website will be published in the coming months by UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre and Childwatch International Research Network. However, it is a complicated and evolving process to try to implement ‘international’ research ethics guidelines in complex local realities.
I was asked to contribute an ethics case study for this document and website. With their permission, I am reproducing the case study here for my readers. [UPDATE Oct. 30, 2013: The charter has now been published and can be found with additional resources at this website: Ethical Research Involving Children.]
In today’s post I will post the background context and the ethical challenge. In my next post I will share the choices made and further considerations for reflection and discussion.
In many cultures around the world, hospitality is a strong value. This is the case in Pakistan. The ethic of hospitality means that guests are treated with great respect and honour, and hosts will go out of their way to give their time and help to visitors. Guests are given tea, snacks, and sometimes even a full meal, to honour their visit. The cultural expectation of the guest is to accept this hospitality graciously, often after an initial cursory refusal.
Through my work with different organizations in Pakistan, I have had the opportunity to visit homes, schools, and communities in different parts of the country with other research team members. When our research teams visit homes and schools in Pakistan, we are welcomed with this strong sense of hospitality. Families and school representatives prepare or make arrangements for refreshments for research team members who visit them.
The Ethical Challenge:
This value of hospitality is strong in Pakistani communities – even from, and perhaps especially from, families and schools that are struggling financially. Arrangements for refreshments can be a financial strain on families and schools that are already struggling to make ends meet. At schools, the arrangements often involve pulling female teachers and female students out of classroom activities to prepare and serve refreshments to visitors.
However, to refuse families’ and communities’ hospitality – even if it is done in a gracious and respectful way – risks being perceived negatively. The refusal may be perceived at best as cursory (cultural etiquette where you first say no but then accept), and at worst as disrespectful. It could negatively affect the relationship with communities, limiting the willingness and openness of potential research participants to share their time and perspectives in the research process. Also, the offering and accepting of tea and refreshments provides a culturally familiar space and time in which informal conversation and interaction can happen, easing some of the formality around the research process for both the prospective research participants and the research team.
My research colleagues and I struggled – and continue to struggle – with these ethical contradictions. How could we maintain the ethic of respecting cultural values and norms, while at the same time maintain the research ethic of ‘do no harm’?
We had the following choices. We could accept families’ and schools’ hospitality graciously, acknowledging the strain it places on them. We also considered accepting the hospitality but offering compensation for their inconvenience (e.g., giving money to cover the costs of the tea or refreshments) – but were told by community members that this could be viewed as insulting. Alternately, we could refuse families’ and schools’ hospitality altogether, risking being perceived as ungracious and disrespectful.
What would you do? Please share your thoughts and ideas.
In my next post, I will share with you the (imperfect) choices we made and further considerations for reflection and discussion.
See related post: