Researching Young People and Sensitive Information

Monday, July 14, 2014: 8:45 PM
Room: F205
Distributed Paper
Sofia MARQUES DA SILVA , Faculty of Psychology n+and Education Sciences, University of Porto (FPCEUP/CIIE), PORTO, Portugal
This paper analyse an ethical dilemma experienced during fieldwork in a youth centre in Portugal. It argues that the revelation of particular kinds of information by some participants within qualitative research can present particular challenges, which in some cases could cause harm to participants or researchers. Consent and confidentiality are key principles of ethical research. Researchers tend to formulate studies to ensure that informed consent is obtained and confidentiality is protected. Less attention has been paid to the impact that ethical decisions and research processes can have on people’s lives, or the ways in which participant disclosure can impact upon researchers. Attention will be paid to what should we do with particularly sensitive information given by participants.

Drawing upon an ethnographic research project undertaken in a context of social and material deprivation this paper attempts to explore a particular issue concerning ‘uncomfortable’ information disclosed during fieldwork. I was confronted by the information that a 16 year old girl, Diana, was working illegally and being exploited in a textile factory. To report this situation to the authorities was ethically in juxtaposition with confidentiality, which is related to data and information and with respect of personal privacy. Above all, emerged conflicting positions associated with the values and different types of good, which means that we are dealing with what is referred to as a ‘grey matter’ (Kennedy 2005). This does not mean that ethical decisions are taken based only on researcher’s own criteria.  Some regulation is important and suitable, however, certain complex situations are impossible to anticipate by regulatory regimes.

Kennedy, J.E. (2005) ‘Grey matter: ambiguities and complexities of ethics in research’, Journal of Academic Ethics, 3: 143-58.