by : http://thesiswhisperer.com/2015/01/28/book-review-ethics-and-values-in-social-research-paul-ransome/
Here at the Whisperer we try to make your life easier by
reading books and doing reviews. We try to review books which would
appeal to most researchers, but some of the books we get sent have more
specific audiences in mind.
“Ethics and Values in Social research” by Paul Ransome
is clearly designed for those in the humanities and social sciences
doing field based research. I decided it had just wide enough appeal for
us to review, but if you are in the sciences you might want to stop
reading now (I won't be offended).
I was lucky enough to find two students engaged exactly this kind
of research to review the book for us. Sandra Lauer is a volunteer
member of the NSW Rural Fire Service, and is studying rural fire
brigades and the concept of “shared responsibility” for her PhD at ANU.
Jennifer Upchurch is a member of the youth service organisation,
Rotaract, and is doing an ethnographic study of Australian Rotaract
Clubs for her PhD at ANU.
from many introductory social research textbooks is the connection to
this bigger picture; an acknowledgment of the ways in which social
researchers are part of what we are researching and how this may affect
the participants and activities within our research.
As social researchers located in a specific discipline, the history
and traditions of the discipline offer us theoretical frameworks from
which we design, develop and conduct our research. Occasionally, there
is a tendency to get lost in the academic jargon and literature of these
traditions and we risk becoming distanced from the social world we are
trying to investigate.
Conversely, for those engaging as “Complete
Member Researchers” (Adler 1987:35), it is also easy to become so
involved in the social world of the researched that disciplinary
traditions become distanced from our experiences in the field.
This tension increases the need to be reflexive about the research
process; what is our ontology (how we see the world) and epistemology
(how we understand knowledge) and what are the relationships between
them? The bigger picture here also involves understanding ethics and
values in considering our relationship and ethical responsibilities to
In Paul Ransome’s book, Ethics and Values in Social Research, we were
pleasantly surprised to find an honest and open examination of the
links between ethics, ontology and epistemology and how these drive the
ethical and moral practice of the researcher.
This book gets
researchers to think about the bigger picture by posing a series of
ethical and methodological exercises to help strengthen reflexivity in
their research practice.
Both of us are “Complete Member-Researchers” (Adler 1987) in that we
are members of the populations they are studying. Because of this, we
often talk together about how this impacts on our ethical
responsibilities to our participants.
Upon seeing this book advertised
to review, we wondered, how might a book like this be used in helping
research students to craft their ethics applications, methodology and
methods chapters, and encourage reflexivity throughout the process?
The book starts with a rather traditional discussion of the
definitions of ethics and values, and how these underpin the codes of
professional and ethical practice, including a historical overview and
practical examples. This section gives a good grounding in the
practicalities of human ethics applications and ethical research
Ransome then puts researchers under the microscope in examining
how the process of becoming an “ethical researcher” is socially
constructed, for example by ethics statements and the
institutional-legal side of the human ethics application process.
Ransome reminds us that these procedures are a safeguard to ensure that
the moral conscience of the researcher is engaged in the design of
The following chapters deal with the underlying philosophical
principles of knowledge (epistemology) and reality/being (ontology) and
link this back to how different research traditions will differ with
The book provides in-depth discussions about
reflection and reflexivity, the challenges of critical research and the
complexities of ideological/political/value standpoints for social
It is here that the book excels, taking the reader on a
journey that highlights how different methodological paradigms impact on
research design and the choice of methods, and how these then integrate
with ethical considerations and value judgments.
The later chapters discuss different types of participatory social
research, e.g. action research, and how these denote different research
motivations and thus different ethical responsibilities to participants.
In examining the “best practice” of reflexive practice, and drawing on
the methodological discussion in previous chapters, Ransome encourages
the reader to imagine themselves within the context of the research
community around them, not just in the field with their participants.
a conversational tone, the book’s focus moves repeatedly from the
researched to the researcher and back again. At times this is a little
dizzying and a lot to process, but it is a conversation into which the
reader cannot help but be drawn, as they question their relationships
with their participants.
The final chapter looks at policy making from the standpoint of the
researcher. It considers the researcher’s position in the current
environment where policy outcomes are only measurable in the context of
other policies and their outcomes.
Ransome does some intellectual
“heavy-lifting”, discussing how this might impact on the intentions of
the social researcher in how they seek to affect change through policy,
and consequently how this re-defines the ethics of research design
We highly recommend this book as a “methodological gymnasium” for social researchers at any stage of the research process.
For beginners in higher research planning their project proposals and
reviews, the book allows you to chart the links between all of those
‘ologies in your research design and pave the way for much more
For people who are halfway through a thesis, this
book has prompts for helping you think about how your research outputs
are motivated by your values. And for people writing up, this book might
help you decode how your findings reflect your relationships with your
To sum up, Ethics and Values in Social Research reminds researchers
that reflexivity acts as a means for us to ethically respect ourselves
and others in the research process:
“embracing the idea of reflexivity, we must accept that from the very
moment the research process begins in the imagination of the
researcher, social research is, in a truly experiential sense, a
learning process for the social researcher” (Ransome 2013:168).
This book will help you along in that learning process, at whichever stage you may find yourself.
Adler, P. A. (1987). Membership roles in field research (Vol. 6). Sage.