[Air-l] FYI: new resource in Internet research ethics

Charles Ess cmess at lib.drury.edu
Tue Jun 24 05:25:06 PDT 2003

Cher AoIR-ists:

As someone who is looking for accessible resources for teaching online
research ethics this fall, allow me to call to your attention a new
publication that makes a significant contribution to the growing literature
on Internet research ethics - and, I believe, will be of distinctive use
especially in _teaching_ Internet research ethics:

May Thorseth (ed). 2003.  _Applied Ethics in Internet Research_. Trondheim
(Norway): Programme for Applied Ethics, Norwegian University of Science and
Technology (NTNU).

The book grew out of a conference and graduate course on Internet research
ethics held in June, 2002, at NTNU.  The first section of the book is made
up of contributions by the conference speakers and serves as an introduction
to the field of Internet research ethics:

Dag Elgesem, "On the parallel between the norms of science and the norms of
cultures on the Internet"
Charles Ess, "Beyond Contemptus Mundi and Cartesian Dualism: the
BodySubject, (re)New(ed) Coherencies with Eastern Approaches to Life/Death,
and Internet Research Ethics"
Chris Mann, "Generating data online: ethical concerns and challenges for the
C21 researcher"
Annette N. Markham, "Critical Junctures and Ethical Choices in Internet

That is: the introductory material includes two more theoretical/conceptual
approaches to Internet research ethics by philosophers engaged in applied
ethics - and two very practically oriented guides by prominent researchers
who have paid exceptional attention to ethics in their own work.

(AoIR-ists might also note that the first three are members of the AoIR
ethics working group.  Chris Mann, in particular, is already deservedly well
known for her 2000 book (co-written with Fiona Stewart), _Using the Internet
in Qualitative Research: A Handbook for Researching Online_: the chapter on
research ethics in this volume, in particular, served as a very useful
required reading for the course.
Annette Markham is of course prominent for her research, including her 1998
volume _Life online: researching real experience in virtual space_.)

The second part of the volume is made up of the masters'-level research
projects/papers developed by the course participants.  These papers are
equivalent to something like a semester/term research paper in the U.S.
system: in addition, each paper was submitted to two of the participating
conference faculty for critical review and comment, and revised accordingly.
Hence they can be seen as something like "mini-masters" theses.
Most of these contributions focus on specific ethical issues encountered by
their authors in the course of a specific research project - and hence
function as "real-world" case studies for teaching research ethics.

Again, the AoIR ethics working committee is well represented here: the first
contribution is from Janne C.H. Bromseth (who was also very much a central
force in organizing the conference and course in the first place): "Ethical
and methodological challenges in research on net-mediated communication".

Further contributions include:

Heidi Gilstad, "Ethical questions related to the development of
Camilla Halvarson & Peter Lilliengren, "Private explanatory systems and
informed consent online"
Cecilia Löfberg, "Ethical and Methodological Dilemmas in Research with/on
Children and Youths on the Net"
Helge Ridderstrom, "Ethical challenges in research on youths' personal home

These last two address one of the thorniest areas of online research ethics
- namely, ethical obligations, and how they might be met, to children and
minors.  (To my knowledge, this is one of the most complex areas because of
the "constituency" - i.e., minors who are more vulnerable (and thus to whom
more is owed in terms of protection, etc.) but who, at the same time, are
not legally able to give (or, more fundamentally, fully understand the
meaning of) "informed" consent.  At the same time, to my knowledge, this
area is among those least written about in the literature,.  Hence these
chapters are especially important and useful.)

Two other contributions are written from more philosophical and theological
Roe Fremstedal, "Recognition between Internet users"
Svein Sando, "Vulnerable bodies as ethical sensors"
Fremstedal examines how far the Net may contribute to the sorts of
inter-subjectivity (including recognition of "the Other" as _real_) required
for discourse ethics and democratic deliberation in Apel and Habermas, and
in light of Hegel's dialectic of recognition and Kierkegaard's
existentialism (whew! great stuff for us philosophers!)
Sando develops an equally interesting framework for research ethics, based
on an overview of diverse Western philosophical and theological
understandings of embodiment and the body, vis-a-vis contemporary theorists
of embodiment and cyberspace such as Katherine Hayles and Barbara Becker.

FWIW: both I and Sando develop views on embodiment that argue for a strong
connection between our online and offline subjectivities -  and thus for
more of an analogy rather than disanalogy between online and offline
research ethics.

In any case, I believe the book will be of considerable value to both
faculty and students who must confront the ethics of online research.  To my
knowledge, there are at least two other books coming out soon that likewise
deserve serious attention - but this volume will be especially useful for
teaching purposes as it includes not only solid theoretical reflections and
orientation, but also a great range of _applied_ ethical reflection by both
prominent researchers and masters-level students whose projects and
reflections will be immediately accessible to their cohorts in other

Finally - the book is most affordable:
100 Norwegian Kroner / 6.75 USD / 11 British pounds.
(though I don't know what the shipping charges might be)

Ordering address: Programme for Applied Ethics, Department of Philosophy,
NTNU, NO - 7491, Trondheim, Norway.
By e-mail: <may.thorseth at hf.ntnu.no>

As the Germans say, "Selbstlob stinkt" (self-praise stinks): I hope these
comments will not be interpreted as such. Rather, despite my inclusion in
this volume (smile), I hope this brief overview will be a useful FYI..

And, of course: any other suggestions for teaching resources would be most

All best wishes,

Charles Ess
Distinguished Research Professor, Interdisciplinary Studies
Drury University
900 N. Benton Ave.                          Voice: 417-873-7230
Springfield, MO  65802  USA            FAX: 417-873-7435
Home page:  http://www.drury.edu/ess/ess.html
Co-chair, CATaC: http://www.it.murdoch.edu.au/catac/

Exemplary persons seek harmony, not sameness. -- Analects 13.23

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