Gendered Violence and the Ethics of Social Science Research
Violence Against Women
The issue of ethical conduct in research settings is important and complex. As tenure-track researchers who study gendered violence, we found Clark and Walker’s discussion provocative, thoughtful, and interesting. They urge researchers to attend both to the structural dynamics of research carried out under the pressures of tenure and promotion while advocating an ethical frame that draws attention to the limited definition of risk or harm that animates typical human subjects research. Victims of violence, they argue, should not be subjected to a standardized understanding of risk. A broader framework is needed, one that brings into conversation virtue ethics with consequentialist and ontological frameworks. Given the impossible task of responding to the many points discussed by Clark and Walker, we chose to focus on four areas. In all likelihood, these areas of discussion reflect our own interests rather than Clark and Walker’s, but challenged to think seriously about research ethics in victimization studies, we attend to the following points.
First, we seek to put virtue ethics in conversation with care ethics, in part because care ethics formed an important component of feminist discourse during the historical period in which institutional review boards came into being. Although virtue ethics may have lost its masculinist inflection after shedding its etymological roots,1 care ethics was explicitly seen as suited for the feminist subject. Following our discussion of care ethics, we address the question of setting victims of violence apart as a special class of vulnerable human research subjects. We argue that such a designation may yield more problems than it does solutions. Next, we turn to the violence of epistemology as a concern in research ethics. How do we come to an ethical definition of the research object, and to whom are we accountable? Finally, we turn to the relation of care when carrying out ethically and methodologically sound research.