Ethical Issues of Interviewing In: Doing Interviews By: Steinar Kvale Pub. Date: 2011 Access Date: January 3, 2020 Publishing Company: SAGE Publications, Ltd City: London Print ISBN: 9780761949770 Online ISBN: 9781849208963 DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781849208963 Print pages: 24-32 © 2007 SAGE Publications, Ltd All Rights Reserved. This PDF has been generated from SAGE Research Methods. Please note that the pagination of the online version will vary from the pagination of the print book. SAGE SAGE Research Methods 2007 SAGE Publications, Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Ethical Issues of Interviewing • Interviewing as a moral inquiry 23 • Ethical issues throughout an interview inquiry 24 • Ethical guidelines 25 • Micro – and macro-ethics in interview studies 30 Chapter objectives After reading this chapter, you should understand • how interviewing for research purposes involves moral concerns; • how ethical issues go beyond the live interview situation and are embedded in all stages of an interview inquiry; • ethical guidelines for social research and the importance of informed consent, confidentiality, consequences and the researcher role; and • how moral issues of interviewing go beyond the micro-ethics of an interview project to include the macro-ethics of the broader social effects of the interview-produced knowledge. Interviewing as a moral inquiry An interview inquiry is a moral enterprise. Moral issues concern the means as well as the ends of an interview inquiry. The human interaction in the interview affects the interviewees and the knowledge produced by an interview inquiry affects our understanding of the human condition. Consequently, interview research is saturated with moral and ethical issues. Ethical problems in interview research arise particularly because of the complexities of ‘researching private lives and placing accounts in the public arena’ (Mauthner et al., 2002, p. 1). The undertaking of a research project raises questions as to the value of the knowledge produced, what will be the social contributions of the study. Social science research should serve scientific and human interests. The preamble to the American Psychological Association’s ethical principles thus emphasized that psychologists are committed to increasing knowledge of human behaviour and of people’s understanding of themselves and others, and to utilizing this knowledge for the promotion of human welfare, thus: ‘The decision to undertake research rests upon a considered judgment by the individual psychologist about how best to contribute to psychological science and human welfare’ (APA, 1981, p. 637). Page 2 of 10 Ethical Issues of Interviewing SAGE SAGE Research Methods 2007 SAGE Publications, Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Box 3.1 Ethical issues at seven research stages Thematizing. The purpose of an interview study should, beyond the scientific value of the knowledge sought, also be considered with regard to improvement of the human situation investigated. Designing. Ethical issues of design involve obtaining the subjects’ informed consent to participate in the study, securing confidentiality, and considering the possible consequences of the study for the subjects. Interview situation. The consequences of the interview interaction for the subjects need to be taken into account, such as stress during the interview and changes in selfunderstanding. Transcription. The confidentiality of the interviewees needs to be protected and there is also the question of whether a transcribed text is loyal to the interviewee’s oral statements. Analysis. Ethical issues in analysis involve the question of how penetratingly the interviews can be analyzed and of whether the subjects should have a say in how their statements are interpreted. Verification. It is the researcher’s ethical responsibility to report knowledge that is as secured and verified as possible. This involves the issue of how critically an interviewee may be questioned. Reporting. There is again the issue of confidentiality when reporting private interviews in public, and of consequences of the published report for the interviewees and for the groups they belong to. Ethical issues throughout an interview inquiry Ethical issues go through the entire process of an interview investigation, and potential ethical concerns should be taken into consideration from the very start of an investigation and up to the final report. Some of the ethical concerns that can arise throughout the seven stages of an interview inquiry are depicted in Box 3.1. These stages will be treated in more detail in the following Chapter 4 on designing an investigation. Ethical issues such as those presented above need be considered when preparing an ethical protocol for an interview study. Within some fields, such as in the health sciences, it is mandatory to submit an interview project to an ethical review board before the investigation may be undertaken. The researcher is thereby required to think through in advance value issues and ethical dilemmas that may arise during an interview Page 3 of 10 Ethical Issues of Interviewing SAGE SAGE Research Methods 2007 SAGE Publications, Ltd. All Rights Reserved. project, and perhaps also be encouraged to consult experienced members in the research community. Even when not a formal requirement, it may be of value when planning an interview inquiry to also draft a parallel ethical protocol treating ethical issues that can be anticipated in an investigation. With a foreknowledge of the moral issues that typically arise at the different stages of an interview investigation, the researcher can make reflected choices while designing a study and be alert to critical and sensitive issues that may turn up during the inquiry. The difficulty of specifying in advance the topics of interview studies, which are often exploratory, as well as of describing in advance the specific questions to be posed in a flexible non-standardized interview, constitutes, however, a potential problem with some ethical review boards. Some boards may want to approve every interview question in advance, which may be feasible for the predetermined questions in a questionnaire, whereas open research interviews involve on-the-spot decisions about following up unanticipated leads from the subjects with questions that cannot be determined in advance. Parker (2005) has criticized ethics committees in the United Kingdom for favouring quantitative over qualitative approaches, indirectly preventing new forms of research that have not been described in the code, and for being bureaucratic in their use of checklists, often with the result that researchers spend their time trying to get through the review process instead of engaging in serious thought about ethics. In the United States, the institutional review boards (IRBs) and their ethical guidelines for human subjects research have likewise been criticized for serving a new methodological conservatism constraining participatory qualitative research (Lincoln, 2005). Developed for experimentation in biomedical research, these guidelines have been extrapolated to the social sciences, where to a large extent they are incongruent with interpretative and interactive qualitative research methods such as interviewing, field research and participatory action research. While fully informed consent is highly pertinent in high-risk medical experiments, it is less relevant and feasible in low-risk field studies and interviews. Lincoln further argues that with the reconfigured relationships of qualitative research as cooperative, mutual, democratic and open-ended, key issues of common ethical guidelines become non-issues in a feminist communitarian ethics. Ethical guidelines Professional ethical codes serve as contexts for reflection on the specific ethical decisions throughout an interview inquiry. Philosophical ethical theories provide frames for more extended ethical reflection; key positions are here a Kantian ethics of duty, a utilitarian ethics of consequences and Aristotle’s virtue ethics (Kimmel, 1988), and, more recently a caring communitarian ethics (Lincoln 2005). Such conceptual contexts seldom provide definite answers to the normative choices to be made during a research project; they are more like texts to be interpreted with respect to their relevance to specific situations. Examples and case studies may serve as aids for the transition from general principles to specific practices. The ethical skills embodied in local professional communities further represent an important extension of the written ethical principles, rules and examples. Page 4 of 10 Ethical Issues of Interviewing SAGE SAGE Research Methods 2007 SAGE Publications, Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Box 3.2 Ethical questions at the start of an interview study What are the beneficial consequences of the study? How can the study contribute to enhancing the situation of the participating subject? Of the group they represent? Of the human condition? How can the informed consent of the participating subjects be obtained? How much information about the study needs to be given in advance, and what can wait until a debriefing after the interviews? Who should give the consent – the subjects or their superiors? How can the confidentiality of the interview subjects be protected? How important is it that the subjects remain anonymous? How can the identity of the subjects be disguised? Who will have access to the interviews? Can legal problems concerning protection of the subjects’ anonymity be expected? What are the consequences of the study for the participating subjects? Will any potential harm to the subjects be outweighed by potential benefits? Will the interviews approximate therapeutic relationships, and if so, what precautions can be taken? When publishing the study, what consequences may be anticipated for the subjects and for the groups they represent? How will the researcher’s role affect the study? How can a researcher avoid co-option from the funding of a project or over-identification with his or her subjects, thereby losing critical perspective on the knowledge produced? Ethical guidelines for social science research commonly concern the subjects’ informed consent to participate in the study, confidentiality of the subjects, consequences of participation in the research project and the researcher’s role in the study (cf. Guidelines for the Protection of Human Subjects, 1992). Box 3.2 outlines issues raised by these ethical guidelines in the form of questions, which interviewers may ask themselves before embarking on an interview journey. Page 5 of 10 Ethical Issues of Interviewing SAGE SAGE Research Methods 2007 SAGE Publications, Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Informed consent Informed consent entails informing the research subjects about the overall purpose of the investigation and the main features of the design, as well as of possible risks and benefits from participation in the research project. This raises the issue of how informed consent can be handled in exploratory interview studies where the investigators themselves will have little advance knowledge of how the interviews will proceed. Informed consent further involves obtaining the voluntary participation of subjects and informing them about their right to withdraw from the study at any time. Through briefing and debriefing, the interviewees should be informed about the purpose and the procedure of the interview. This may include information about confidentiality and who will have access to the interview; the researcher’s right to publish the whole interview or parts of it; and the interviewee’s possible access to the transcription and the analyses of the interviews. In most cases such issues may not matter much to the subjects. If, however, it is likely that the investigation may treat or instigate issues of conflict, particularly within institutional settings, a written agreement may serve as a protection for both the interviewees and the researcher. In particular, when it comes to later use of the interview it may be preferable to have a written agreement on the informed consent of the interviewee to participate in the study and the future use of the interviews, signed by both interviewer and subject (see Yow, 1994, for examples of letters of agreement with subjects). Issues about who should give the consent may arise with interviews in institutions, where a superior’s consent to a study may imply a more or less subtle pressure on employees to participate. With school children, the question comes up about who should give the consent – the children themselves, their parents, the teacher, the school superintendent or the school board? Informed consent also involves the question of how much information should be given and when. Full information about design and purpose counteracts deception of the subjects. Providing information about a study involves a careful balance between detailed over-information and leaving out aspects of the design that may be significant to the subjects. In some interview investigations, such as those using funnelshaped techniques (Chapter 5), the specific purposes of a study are initially withheld in order to obtain the interviewees’ spontaneous views on a topic and to avoid leading them to specific answers. In such cases full information should be given in a debriefing after the interview. Confidentiality Confidentiality in research implies that private data identifying the subjects will not be reported. If a study does publish information potentially recognizable to others, the subjects need to agree on the release of identifiable information. The principle of the research subjects’ right to privacy is not without ethical and scientific dilemmas. Thus there is a concern about what information should be available to whom. Should, for example, interviews with children be available to their parents and teachers? In studie

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