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Is the Presumption of Anonymity a Matter of Protection or Paternalism? Obtaining Ethical Approval for Participatory Research on Pornography

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By: Ruth Beresford Edited by: Published: 2018 | Product: SAGE Research Methods Cases
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Abstract

This case study outlines some of the difficulties encountered in obtaining ethical approval for a study into women and pornography using participatory research methods. My research, the Living with Porn(ography) Project, explores women’s experiences of pornography. It aims to develop a sociological understanding of what pornography means for women, and how they think and feel about it, by looking at their lived experiences. I have designed this project around the principles of co-research and, by working with a specially convened group of women, it is being conducted according to the methodology of participatory research. In keeping with these commitments, the study has been structured to facilitate the women’s ownership of their contribution to the project. Consistent with this approach, the anonymity of those participating in the research was conceived of as an optional, as opposed to an automatic, condition. This stance was one of the key issues that led to my application to the University of Sheffield twice being subject to compulsory changes following an unfavorable opinion. This case study will discuss the application process in detail and explore the tensions that arose between the ethics of participatory research and the traditional ethical principles guiding sociological research. I will discuss the nature of this ethical friction and how it was resolved. This case will encourage critical examination of the standard ethical considerations and norms that inform the planning and review of research proposals. It will consider how those pursuing participatory research can develop good ethical practices toward all those involved in their work.

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