Posts Tagged 'Helen Kara'

Ethics and the role of judgement

Kara, Helen

Helen Kara

Helen Kara is the author of Research ethics in the real world: Euro-Western and indigenous perspectives, out today.

“I have been fascinated by ethics since long before I became a researcher. Like most of my contemporaries (and no doubt many others too), I was brought up to believe that fairness was worth striving for.

Working for the statutory and third sectors in the 1980s and 90s involved a lot of talk about equal opportunities (as it was termed in those days). These raised questions that interested me from an early age. What is fair? What is equal? Who decides?

The Chronicle of Higher Education ran an article last month suggesting that scholars should stop citing the work of ‘bad people’ (everyone from sexual harassers to fully paid-up Nazis). The basis of this article was a judgement that if someone is identified as a ‘bad person’, we can all stop citing their work, and so, presumably, feel pleased with ourselves for making the world a slightly better place. This approach is problematic in a number of ways. First, it is actually only possible to stop citing the work of people you know to be in some way ‘bad’. If someone has been convicted of a heinous crime then, arguably, fair enough – though not all convictions are safe. If they have been accused of a crime? That is even more problematic if you subscribe to the notion of ‘innocent until proven guilty’. And whatever criteria you use, you can’t escape the fact that you are still likely to cite some ‘bad people’: from criminals who go uncaught to people who are just generally unpleasant.

Also, findings from research conducted in horrific ways by some of the very worst of ‘bad people’ have been later used to save lives. There is a wide difference of opinion about whether this can ever be justified. Some scholars think not; it is simply too repugnant to be OK to use such data in any circumstances. Others think that the harm has been done, and cannot be undone, so why not use the existing results for good?

Research ethics committees have to make judgements about ethical aspects of research, and these too can be really challenging. People who sit on research ethics committees are generally people who work hard to be ethical and to help others think and act ethically. However, committee members may be constrained by institutional and/or legislative requirements.

“How can any social researcher judge whether or not a participant has a mental health problem, or uses illicit drugs, or lives with a chronic but invisible disability?”

A few days after the Chronicle ran its article, I heard about a student’s ethical approval application being rejected on several grounds, one of which was that they could not guarantee individual participants would not be members of vulnerable groups. While the application may have had a number of flaws, this ground for rejection worries me deeply. How can any social researcher judge whether or not a participant has a mental health problem, or uses illicit drugs, or lives with a chronic but invisible disability? These factors are not self-evident, and I cannot see how it would be ethical to ask every potential participant a string of intrusive personal questions to find out. Also, if we did that, it would exclude people from participating in research: people who are already marginalised, who may rarely have the chance to be listened to attentively by another human being, and whose voices are insufficiently heard in the wider world.

“…part of the answer is for us all to learn to think and act more ethically.”

I can see that both the judgement advocated in the article, and the judgement made by the committee, were intended to be ethical. I think I have demonstrated that in each case, the situation is too complex to be effectively addressed by such a straightforward judgement. What, then, are we to do? In my view, part of the answer is for us all to learn to think and act more ethically. It may help if we remember that research is built on academic foundations of elitism and exclusion. Of course there may at times still be occasional grounds for exclusion, but in general might it not be more worthwhile to work towards more inclusive research practice? Rather than trying to complete the impossible task of compiling a definitive list of ‘bad people’ to exclude, we could judge worthy of inclusion more scholars of colour, queer scholars, scholars with disabilities, scholars from Indigenous communities, and so on. And perhaps we could judge the perspectives of so-called ‘vulnerable people’ as valuable, for they may have a great deal to teach us, if only we can learn to listen.


Research ethics in the real world [FC] RGBResearch ethics in the real world by Helen Kara is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £17.59.

Find out more about impact, influence and engagement at Policy Press here.

Policy Press newsletter subscribers receive a 35% discount – sign up here.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Bristol University Press and Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

And, after ‘The End’ of the book? #AcWriMo of course…

Independent researcher and author Helen Kara is in a rather celebratory mood (as are we!) as she has finished writing her current book Creative research methods in the social sciences: A Practical Guide. Does this mean she is destined to spend the run up to Christmas twiddling her thumbs and resting on her laurels? Heavens NO – she’s straight onto the next thing of course: #AcWriMo…

Helen KaraI finished my book! And I’ve blogged about the process for the Research Whisperer – the post should be up next week. But, in brief: it’s done. And I’m proud of it. Happy with it. Mostly. There are always nagging doubts; those won’t go away unless I get good reviews and feedback from readers after publication – and maybe not entirely, even then. Either way, I won’t know about that until the middle of next year. And I haven’t finished being a writer. So, what next?

And this is what the new book will look like!

And this is what the new book will look like!

Ooh, just look at the time. It’s AcWriMo! This was founded in 2011 by Charlotte Frost and a colleague who work on the excellent PhD2Published blog. AcWriMo (Academic Writing Month) was inspired by NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) which began in 1999 in San Francisco with 21 writers who wanted to support each other in producing 50,000 words of fiction each in one month. Now, hundreds of thousands of writers all over the world spend November churning out 50,000 words (or trying to) and networking on social media for mutual support.

AcWriMo began with the same 50,000-word goal, but by the second year it had morphed into a system where everyone set their own target. There is a spreadsheet to record your target, plan, daily progress, and final achievement. Which of course means you can see what others are planning and doing. Come and join us if you like – OK we’re a few days into November, but that doesn’t matter.

‘rest, play, celebrate’

Some targets are matter-of-fact and outcome-based: ‘Finish discussion chapter, finish and submit journal article’. Others are more process-oriented: ‘Develop a sustainable writing habit of 500 words per day, rest, play, celebrate.’ Mine is ‘Write one solo authored journal article and one co-authored journal article.’

The plans are interesting, too, ranging from the specific ‘write 2 hrs/day 5 days/wk’ to the vague ‘make a good plan’. Mine is somewhere in the middle: ‘Write some words most days.’ Last year I was aiming for 5,000 words per week, 20,000 words altogether, as I hammered out the first draft of the book (I did it, too, by 26 November). This year will be considerably more relaxed – but, as always, there are words to write and meaning to create. And that makes me happy.

Now that the book is done, I have a backlog of journal articles to write or co-write and submit. There are 10 on my list, so I’ll be glad to tackle two of them in November. After that I’m thinking of aiming for one a month or so, although whether I’ll be able to do that in practice depends on the amount of commissioned work I get, and other commitments – in April and May, for example, I’ll need to do promotional work for the next book.

I will, of course, be continuing to blog my academic writing progress – although not here, as I’ve set up my own blog and website. So if you’d like to find out how I approach AcWriMo and writing journal articles, please do come and see me there.

It’s been a real pleasure hosting Dr Helen Kara’s blog and we’ll continue to support Helen’s blog as it expands and grows over on her new site [LINK TO]. If you’ve missed any of Helen’s blog, don’t forget you can catch up on them by following the links below:

 Impostor syndrome or the obstacle course of the self

Reviewers comments: the good, the bad and the ugly


That difficult second research book

Three compromises you have to make when writing a book

How much pre-writing research do you have to do?

Where does a book begin?

What, another blog on academic writing?!!!

A year in the life of an academic writer: About Helen Kara

And some books by the same author:

Research and evaluation for busy practitioners

Policy Press bytes

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Summer time and the reading is easy….

reading in the sunshineSo it’s finally that time of year – sports day is over, the schools have packed up and the morning commute has become a little quieter. It’s the time when people start to kick back and think of flip-flops, exotic destinations and, definitely at Policy Press, of catching up on some much needed reading time.

We decided we’d ask a few of our authors what little gems they were tucking away in the suitcase to read this summer as they jet off for their well- earned holidays…

Danny Dorling’s most recent co-authored book The Social Atlas of Europe has just published, which means his well-earned break should afford him enough time to catch up on a couple of books at least:

Danny Dorling“I plan to read Selina Todd’s The People. The Rise and Fall of the Working Class, 1910-2010. People who have read it say it includes enough anecdotes to be lively and gives the account that has been needed to be written for some time. I also aim to re-read Maud Pember Reeve’s Round About a Pound a Week, published 101 years ago. I recently read Mary O’Hara’s Austerity Bites which reminded me of what had Maud found four generations earlier. I’m going to need something more fun to read as well after all that!” Danny Dorling

Unfortunately for Helen Kara, author of Research and evaluation for busy practitioners, we’re making her slog on through the summer months, so she’s beavering away at the second draft of her forthcoming book ‘Creative research methods’ completed before the autumn.  However she is making some room in her busy schedule for Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel:

Helen Kara“It’s a graphic novel memoir about her childhood growing up in a funeral home and her father’s suicide.  That makes it sound very depressing, but it’s not; some of it is sad, but quite a lot of it is hilarious.  I love graphic novels, they have different rhythms from pure text, and I think there should be more books with pictures for grown-ups.”  Helen Kara

The thoughts of Malcolm Dean, author of Democracy under attack, are never far from the subject of media misbehaviour, and the summer holiday is for him an opportunity to go further into the dark and murky world of tabloid terrorism:

Malcolm Dean

“I’m taking two books this summer. The first is Ray Jones’s The Story of Baby P, which I have already dipped into. It is a forensic documentation of the malign faults of the tabloids, and the readiness of politicians — in this case one from each side, Ed Balls as a minister and David Cameron as the Opposition leader — to fall in line with the populist papers’ pernicious agendas. My second book is Margaret MacMillan’s widely acclaimed The War that ended Peace. History, when I took GCE 49 years ago, stopped at the 14 causes of the First World War. I thought it was time to refresh my memory. My daughter must have thought so too. She gave it to me.” Malcolm Dean

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Twitter Updates


Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print.

The work on the Policy Press blog is licensed under a Creative Commons licence.

%d bloggers like this: