Ethics of Fieldwork


Colleges and universities are turning to local communities more and more as resources for learning and research. For instance, Bryn Mawr's Praxis Program combines service in the community with classroom learning and reflection. This kind of program can also provide occasions for student and faculty research.

Many institutions form partnerships with communities and community agencies as part of a mission to support civic engagement and democracy. Civic Engagement provides opportunities of this type.

This website is designed to help students and faculty think about ethical issues that can arise when they work with community members and agencies. It will help us think about how to maximize the benefits of community involvement in a responsible way.

This site has two levels of focus:

  1. Issues raised by campus-community partnerships considered generally. These issues are discussed in the section of this site called Ethics in the Community. More specifically, this section discusses power and coercion, insiders and outsiders, relationships, professionalism and risks.
  2. Special issues raised when interaction with the community constitutes research.

If your work in the community involves observing or collecting data to generate new knowledge, then the sections Am I Doing Research? and Principles of Responsible Research are relevant to you.

Bryn Mawr College requires that all human subjects research associated with the College be reviewed by the Institutional Review Board (IRB). Faculty and students are responsible for working with the IRB to satisfy federal and institutional regulations. The section on the Principles of Responsible Research contains more information on how IRB review works. You should also consult the IRB Web site.

Faculty and students involved in research with human beings need to know that:

  • Implementing the regulations is not optional at institutions like Bryn Mawr, which expects all human subjects research associated with the College to be reviewed by the IRB. This includes student research.
  • The regulations contain definitions of key terms. These definitions help to set standards for the community of researchers. Researchers should understand these standards and definitions, and consult their IRB when they are unsure.
  • Bioethicists tend to think that the regulations work. The government doesn't do everything exactly right, but the regulations for human subjects research are respected and are considered appropriate.