Practicing ethics and ethics praxis

Martin Tolich, Emma Tumilty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose - This paper demonstrates the limited efficacy procedural ethics has for qualitative research. Ethics committee's instructions have a short shelf life given the research question qualitative researchers create is volatile; that is, likely to change due to the inductive, emergent, informant-led nature of qualitative research. Design - This article draws on extensive literature to examine the void between the original research design and the messy reality experienced in the field. We focus on how researchers can practice ethically by recognizing the need for agile and responsive ethics praxis in their work. Findings - This practice describes the researcher, recognizing the initial support from an ethics committee and its limitations, but as the research gets underway assuming full responsibility for ethical considerations that emerge in the field. Practical implications - Researchers' responsibilities entail recognising the dual faces of confidentiality; distinguishing external confidentiality from internal confidentiality. Other responsibilities in post procedural ethics include recognising and addressing what Guillemin and Gillam label big ethical moments and addressing these in different ways. Originality/value - At times, participants and researchers' ethical protections are insufficient to deal with the unforeseen, requiring on the spot ethical reasoning and decision-making. Being prepared for and capable of ethics praxis is therefore crucial. Researchers should also assume they may find themselves at personal risk (physically, emotionally, reputationally) and in anticipation of that they should create a safety plan. Most importantly, the changeable nature of practicing ethical research requires researchers to establish a reference group that can provide impartial advice and guidance enhancing the ethical practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)16-30
Number of pages15
JournalQualitative Report
Issue number13
StatePublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Anonymity
  • Internal Confidentiality
  • Process Consent
  • Reference Groups

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Cultural Studies
  • Education


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