Martin Tolich

Martin Tolich

Otago University (NZ)

Martin Tolich’s first degrees were from Auckland University and his Ph.D. in Sociology was from University of California, Davis. He is currently Associate Professor in Sociology at Otago University, New Zealand. Martin has authored and co-authored numerous books on Research Methods and Research Ethics for Pearson, Oxford University Press, Routledge and Sage. His latest books were Planning Ethically Responsible Research (with Sieber), the Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research Ethics (with Ron Iphofen), Public Sociology Capstone: Non-neoliberal Alternatives to Internships, Social Science Research in New Zealand (with Davidson). His forthcoming book with Routledge is Finding Your Ethical Self: a guidebook for novice qualitative researchers. Tolich’s 2019 sabbatical leave is in Spain and Portugal. During that time he will walk Camino Del Norte analysing the authentic pilgrim from Erving Goffman, Michel Foucault and Max Weber perspectives. He has served on ethics committees for over twenty years and in 2008 founded a not-for-profit independent New Zealand Ethics Committee. In 2012, he gained a blue-sky three year Marsden Grant from the Royal Society of New Zealand to study tensions around ethics review.

The Fundamentals of Qualitative Research Ethics are Confidentiality and Informed Consent: Paradoxically, they are as Robust as they are Fragile
The primacy of the method in quantitative research is the research instrument. In mixed methods, it is the dictatorship of the research question. In qualitative research it is usually limited to the researcher’s responsibility to simultaneously collect and analyse data in real-time. Unstated in this primacy for qualitative research is the necessity to take responsibility for the big ethical moments that are arise in the field. This presentation highlights two fundamental ethical assurances, confidentiality and informed consent, that qualitative researchers routinely employ to protect participants. These concepts are only robust if understanding their fragility and nuance. Confidentiality and anonymity are sound ethical concepts yet they are mutually exclusive. Qualitative research is nuanced, it cannot be anonymous; the researcher always knows what the participant said and who the participant is. De-identifying this knowledge does not anonymise it. Confidentiality has two limits. Law authorities can subpoena confidential data. In addition, data collected among relational groups (families, workplaces, small towns) can undermine confidentiality. Informed consent is also malleable. Participants who give their consent to take part in a research project with an iterative, emergent research question gave uninformed consent. Is this situation aberrant or the norm? Should process consent; given before, during and after data collection become standard? The primacy of the method for qualitative researchers is not limited to data collection and analysis. It also entails ethical considerations both before and after data collection and analysis. In qualitative research, the researcher is the primary guardian of ethics.

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