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Social researchers’ perceptions of ethics review: the role of scientific domain, methodology and ethical position

Hendricks, Anri Jo (2018-03)

Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2018.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Over the last few decades, increased focus has been placed on the importance of research ethics review at higher education institutions. Although this has been welcomed by many academics, various authors have criticised ethics-review processes on both practical and principled grounds. Commonly expressed points of critique are that the ethics-review process is too bureaucratic, and that that it imposes natural science principles on the social sciences. This study was conducted at a university in South Africa, to measure the ethics-review-related orientations of academics who have sought ethical clearance for their social research through the university’s research ethics committee (REC) for the humanities. A cross-sectional research design was applied, using a quantitative survey. A questionnaire designed specifically for the study was administered online. A composite measure of overall orientation towards the REC was calculated, which revealed that, on average, the orientation of social researchers towards the REC is fairly positive. It further emerged that this overall orientation is related to scientific domain, in that researchers in the social sciences and humanities were more inclined than their counterparts in other domains to have an overall negative orientation towards the REC. This inclination is also related to methodological preference, as social researchers who prefer mostly qualitative methods are less inclined to have a positive overall orientation towards the REC. Thirdly, this thesis found that researchers’ ethical positions play a role in their overall orientation towards the REC: academics who hold ethical positions characterised by high levels of relativism are least inclined to have a positive orientation towards the REC. This study also probed the tendency among researchers to make conscious decisions concerning their and their students’ research topics and designs, in order to avoid a difficult and/or lengthy ethics-review process. Such decisions were found to be most prominent among researchers in the social sciences and humanities, and among those who prefer qualitative methods. By interpreting these findings, this thesis assists the REC in focusing future initiatives, but also makes a contribution to a growing body of literature on the ethics review of social research, both in South Africa and globally.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Oor die afgelope paar dekades word meer klem gelê op die belang van navorsingsetiek-oorsig by hoër-onderwysinstellings. Alhoewel dit deur baie akademici verwelkom word, lewer verskeie outeurs kritiek op etiek-oorsigprosesse op sowel praktiese as beginselgronde. Algemene kritiekpunte is dat die etiek-oorsigproses te burokraties is, en natuurwetenskaplike beginsels op die sosiale wetenskappe oplê. Hierdie ondersoek is by 'n universiteit in Suid-Afrika onderneem, om die etiek-oorsigverwante oriëntasies te meet van akademici wat etiese goedkeuring vir hul sosiale navorsing versoek het van die universiteit se navorsingsetiekkomitee (NEK) vir die geesteswetenskappe. ‘n Kruis-seksionele navorsingsontwerp is toegepas, deur die gebruik van 'n kwantitatiewe opname. 'n Vraelys wat spesifiek vir die ondersoek ontwerp is, is aanlyn geadministreer. 'n Saamgestelde meting van algehele oriëntasie teenoor die NEK is bereken, wat aan die lig gebring dat oriëntering van sosiale navorsers gemiddeld redelik positief is. Dit het verder na vore gekom dat hierdie algehele oriëntasie verband hou met wetenskaplike domein, in die opsig dat navorsers in die sosiale en geesteswetenskappe meer geneig as eweknieë in ander domeine om 'n algehele negatiewe oriëntasie teenoor die NEK te hê. Hierdie geneigdheid hou ook verband met metodologiese voorkeur, aangesien sosiale navorsers wat meestal kwalitatiewe metodes verkies, minder geneig is om 'n positiewe algehele oriëntering teenoor die NEK te hê. Derdens het hierdie tesis bevind dat navorsers se etiese posisies 'n rol speel in hul algehele oriëntasie teenoor die NEK: akademici wat etiese posisies inneem wat deur hoë vlakke van relativisme gekenmerk word, is die minste geneig om 'n positiewe algehele oriëntasie teenoor die NEK te hê. Hierdie ondersoek het ook die neiging gepeil by navorsers om bewustelike besluite te neem met betrekking tot hul of hul studente se navorsingsonderwerpe en/of -ontwerpe, ten einde ‘n moeilike en/of lang etiek-oorsigproses te vermy. Sulke besluite is bevind as mees prominent by navorsers in die sosiale en geesteswetenskappe, en by diegene wat kwalitatiewe metodes verkies. Deur hierdie bevindinge te interpreteer, help hierdie tesis die NEK om hul toekomstige inisiatiewe te fokus, maar lewer ook ‘n bydrae tot 'n toenemende versameling van literatuur oor die etiek-oorsig van sosiale navorsing, beide in Suid-Afrika en wêreldwyd.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/103552
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