Panel: Ethical and Practical Complexities: Navigating the IRB to Conduct Ethnographies with Vulnerable Populations
Call for Papers: AAA 2016
November 16-20, 2016
Theme: “Evidence, Accident, Discovery”
Anthropologists face unique challenges in obtaining IRB approval to conduct research with vulnerable populations, particularly (but not limited to) people with mental illnesses or who are undergoing mental health treatment. Beyond the basic challenges of collecting data while remaining sensitive to the needs of the populations work with, we also face the complexities of satisfying IRB requirements in ever-changing ethnographic environments and maintaining participant confidentiality in clinical settings. Due to the sensitive nature of mental illnesses, anthropologists also participate in extra screenings in order to ensure the safety of the participants.
Consistent with this year’s AAA theme, “Evidence, Accident, Discovery”, this panel highlights questions for anthropologists conducting mental health and other disability research. First, how anthropologists face challenges in obtaining IRB approval for our research and how we obtain high-quality data while adhering to high ethical standards? In the case of uneven balances of power between ethnographer and participant, the panel asks how we can envision our relationships with vulnerable people and populations? This panel also examines the obligations that anthropologists have to our participants, from prevention of harm during the course of research to ensuring the results of our research also do not cause harm, and perhaps can be used to reduce vulnerability.
Papers relevant to this panel might discuss IRB requirements to conduct ethnographic research among people with mental illnesses; whether ethical obligations to participants with mental illnesses differ from those we might hold to other participants; and the challenges of complying with IRB while in the field.