[Air-l] ethnography and ethics

Ed Lamoureux ell at bradley.edu
Sun May 9 19:11:40 PDT 2004

k.tharp at cqu.edu.au
On May 9, 2004, at 8:39 PM, Kevin Tharp wrote:

> For the sake of furthering the ethics discussion:
> How would you proceed with an investigation of the conversations that
> people have using mobile phones in public places such as the bus or
> train.  This is a situation where lines of public and private are
> blurred as one sided presentations of sometimes very private
> conversations are performed on what can be a very public stage.

Well . . . the LEGALITY of the issue varies by state (in the USA). Some 
states permit recording of talk that is held in public places that is 
publicly available to in-view hearers. Other states forbid recording 
private conversations under any circumstances, without prior 

As for the ethics of it: Why would paying attention to the details of 
such talk be any more an infringement than is being forced to listen to 
it in the first place? What would happen if each time that a cell phone 
user comes into my presence, I start to shout "you are invading my 
private space and privacy rights by forcing me to listen to your 
conversation. I insist that you stop speaking loudly enough for me to 
hear immediately or I'm going to call the police!"

I think they'd rather that I turn on my tape recorder and shut up.

I've always let the test be that  I, as researcher, am out in the open 
in the plain view of the subject. If they are speaking loudly enough 
that I can hear without any special equipment, or effort, I treat the 
conversation as public talk freely available for analysis (and 
recording). In the case of the cell phone, I am not "tapping" the phone 
call illegally cause I can't hear the other side of the conversation.

There are, however, state laws to deal with . . . and those attenuate 
my research behavior.

Edward Lee Lamoureux, Ph. D.
Director, Multimedia Program and New Media Center
Associate Professor, Speech Communication
1501 W. Bradley
Bradley University
Peoria IL  61625

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