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Towards a model of critical ethics to inform the research process in postgraduate research


Author - Aidan Kenny


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Towards criticality in research ethics: personal positionality

Let us move on to linking ethics as codified in the previously reviewed material (academic literature, government and international guidelines, professional associations, and documents, texts and artefacts extracted from electronic sources such as the websites of higher institutes of education and other digital repositories) into a critical ethics model[21] to inform the research process utilised for this author’s own D.Ed. research.[22] See Table 4 for an outline of this informative process of relating theory into a practice. Practical examples of the utility of this approach are detailed in Appendices 1–4. Here I will endeavour to align elements relating to the field of contemporary critical theory[23] such as power, ideology, official knowledge,[24] authority, gender, inequality and the codes, guidelines and statements of the ethics narrative, within the stages of the particular ‘research process’, namely:

  • Reviewing what is known. (Ontological positions and epistemological claims are critically explored in relation to knowledge. The researcher adopts either an implicit or explicit position on the knowledge claims.)
  • Planning how to carry out the research. (Methodological frameworks, discipline paradigms are assessed and a best-fit conceptual framework is constructed. The researcher may engage with peers for critical comment. The researcher in accordance with their experience makes these decisions.)
  • Gathering data. (Methods are reviewed, tested and customised to suit research design. Tools and procedures are developed to facilitate the negotiated process of gaining access and consent. The researcher engages with peers for critical comment, evaluates the process and refines.)
  • Interpreting data and constructing meaning. (Specific methods are reviewed, additional training or skills updating may be necessary. A feedback loop is needed to authenticate data, evaluate process and make refinements. It is the researcher’s responsibility to test the accuracy of the data and make sure they record it and analysis in a true fashion.)
  • Reporting findings. (The researcher considers dissemination strategy, channels of communication, knowledge repositories, locations and events, peer review opportunities and critically evaluates the process.)

A word of caution is needed. In practice the social research process is not a linear-stages structure that is orderly as detailed above, but rather it is a ‘messy’ process which engages with the social world. As this social interaction progresses, the researcher has to monitor events, refine processes and practice as required, engage in active problem solving, and record the evolving shape of the research process to inform future learning.

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