E-Research Ethics and E-Planning: Emerging Considerations for Transformative Research

E-Research Ethics and E-Planning: Emerging Considerations for Transformative Research

Elizabeth A. Buchanan (University of Wisconsin-Stout, USA)
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/ijepr.2012010102
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Abstract

This paper examines the issues of boundaries in the increasingly complex work of e-research in general, and moves towards specific examples relevant to e-planning disciplines. It uses a framework of “research ethics 2.0,” and interrogates models of research ethics in novel research environments. Research ethics 2.0 as a framework forces us to move away from rigid models, monochronistic ways of thinking about ourselves in relation to research, to others, and to our environments, broadly conceived. Transformative research demands transformative models of research ethics.
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Introduction: Ethics, Boundaries, And Research

The increasingly inter-connected and hyper-connected environments in which so many of us live and work have certainly transformed the very meaning and impact of boundaries. Boundaries can be understood in many ways and contexts, from the purely physical to disciplinary to temporal, or tracing1, to psychological. At their essence, boundaries are practical and theoretical, and are governed by many different variables and frameworks, including law, philosophy, religion, and politics. We are, for instance, as Durante suggests “…politically, morally and epistemologically embedded in different, bounded contexts (where the question of universalizing our norms and beliefs is always raised) [and] brings us to wonder, again and again, how to cross the boundaries of 'our own experience'” (M. Durante, personal communication, January 18, 2011).

Those contexts are now fundamentally mediated by technologies of all kinds—and technologies, as we have debated for many years, can democratize, or fail to democratize, to liberate or constrain, to differing degrees. Morozov (2011) has recently documented examples of such technologies, from Twitter feeds coming out of Iran during the 2009 protests to the long-standing use of television as a tool of pacification. While those Twitter feeds of dissent seemed to have worked in favor of democratization and access to information across a political, ideological, and geographical boundary, it has, however, been reported that the US government worked with Twitter to postpone a planned maintenance outage, so that protest tweets would not be interrupted. This is but one example of many possible examples of a political influence or interference over or in a technological sphere; the political dictated the scope and sequence of a boundary for ideological purposes. In a related scope, Blakemore and Longhorn (2004, p. 7) stated, “Neither data nor information are inherently ‘unethical’. Rather, the uses of data and information can be potentially unethical, and this is where computer software and applications, dissemination networks and various data policies enter the ethical debate.” Thus, as boundaries dissolve, or are reconfigured in the presence of, or despite, technology, we must remain cognizant of the myriad tensions that exist when boundaries of any forms collide. Fountain et al. (2010) have identified major ethical challenges in the international dimensions of ethics around transnational contexts, the diffusions of ideas across borders, international regulatory processes, and the impact of conflicts between nations. As these challenges unfold, the ways in which research occurs and the ethics surrounding research change accordingly.

This paper will use the concepts of boundaries as a way of thinking through a “research ethics 2.0” in both theoretical and practical ways. This will undoubtedly become in the not too far off future a 3.0 or 4.0 or some yet to be determined idiom. Research ethics 2.0 as a framework forces us to move away from rigid models, monochronistic ways of thinking about ourselves in relation to our research, to others, and to our environments, broadly conceived. Researchers are moving towards a polychronistic approach of engagement with “subjects” and “objects “of research. E-research amplifies the process of community decision-making—communal consent may become the norm, as online communities, places, spaces, and worlds operate according to self and community-generated norms and practices. Such decision making in research is always at once influenced and impacted by an array of stakeholders, however. A visual model for e-research accounts for these multiple dimensions. At the midpoint of research ethics 2.0, we can envision a research space for what is possible, enabling and constraining. A gap between ethics and research regulations, is, however, growing, as a result of the distinction between the virtual and the real, and the growth of Internet-enabled collaborative research.

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