[Air-L] Pro-ana websites research

Pearse Stokes pearsestokes at gmail.com
Thu Mar 4 01:58:13 PST 2010

Dear Antonio,

I've done a fair bit of research in terms of Pro-Ana and the ethics of 
researching 'people under the age of 18' on line.

There are a number of ways I strive to overcome the ethical 
difficulties. Firstly, I always emphasise that the research is very 
important, and that this justifies the means. In essence I am suggesting 
that while the research may not be completely ethically sound the value 
of the research far out weighs this... contentious to say the least.

With the internet I also did a bit of 'grease monkeying' in that rather 
than have individual respondents (with physical counterparts) I 
developed a new respondent - the cacophony of voices (or as I call my 
research site/respondent 'the technomediaself scape'). Essentially, 
taking the notion from some scholars of actor network theory, I 
hypothesised that the network could be my respondent. This meant (and I 
know I'm pushing this) that I escaped the problem of 
 - ethics (my respondent was not a person and had no 'age' as such) and
 - reliability of data (the cacophony of voices would not 'lie').

Then, you can compare your research to two real world ethical issues. 
The first is that you may be engaging in normal conversation. Many 
people who research youth culture groups like 'roller bladers' or 'skate 
boarders' interview them in a very informal and 'every-day' way. 
Secondly, the data you gather may be publicly available (again just like 
interviewing skaters in skateparks).

Finally, you must insure the protection of the respondent. That means 
keeping them anonymous, but in its widest remit it means conducting 
valuable and useful research - which again justifies your research's 
potentially loose ethics ;) You are suggesting that you will share your 
research with your researched community and everyone will benefit (many 
people avoid this part of the research).

 The most crucial ethical consideration for you, as a researcher 
(outside of insuring your research passes the ethics board) is what you 
are going to do when you develop a relationship with your respondents 
and feel you must intervene. Having a set of protocols will make this 
much much easier.

In my research I was doing 'participant observation' and during one 
particularly long fast (for both me and the respondent) she told me 
about certain issues in her life. Tainting my research and defying the 
ethics outlines in one go I intervened as a fellow human being - that is 
just a foot note in my work which I doubt anyone read!


More information about the Air-L mailing list