PhD research ethics

Ethics Committee

The ethics for the research was submitted to and passed by the Cardiff School of Sport Ethics Committee (an interdisciplinary board), and the potential for risks in this study was considered minimal.

These were identified particularly with respect to the interview phase of the proposed research and any concerns regarding the collection of textual data, especially online, have been addressed separately.

All empirical qualitative studies must respond to a range of ethical considerations identified by Plummer (2001) as including:

  1. Intellectual property
  2. Informed consent
  3. Right to withdraw
  4. Unintended deception
  5. Accuracy of portrayal
  6. Confidentiality
  7. And financial gain.

In response to these seven points, the following principles were applied for this study, as shown in Figure 6.


Figure 6 – Ethical Issues (adapted from Plummer, 2001)

Interviews and Ethical Considerations

For interviews, the following risks were identified:

  • The interviews were planned to last for up to 90 minutes each and therefore, may have caused slight physical discomfort to certain participants.
  • Although this study did not set out to ask sensitive questions for the participants, it was possible that the recollection of experiences would have had the potential to make participants feel uncomfortable.

Online Skype Interviews and Ethics

There were also a number of ethical considerations due to the use of Skype® / EVAER® software, for some interviews:

  • Use of EVAER® software to record, which meant that the participant did not know when recording started unless informed by the interviewer.
  • The storage of data on third-party online storage facilities.
  • Lack of control over the research participants’ physical environment during online interviews and the implications of this for participant confidentiality.
  • The merging of personal and research Skype login identities for both researcher and participant.

Strategies Used to Meet Ethical Guidelines

To answer the above concerns, I adopted the following strategies. Participants chose the location, day, and time of their interview and whether it was recorded.

In line with qualitative ethics procedures of the British Sociological Association’s ethical guidelines, it was stressed to the participants -by way of the participant information sheet, consent form, and finally once again prior to the interview- that interviews sometimes elicit a variety of emotions, including distress.

It was stressed there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers and that they can control what is said and how it is said and that they can request the recording of the interview be paused, stopped or terminated altogether and that this request will be granted.

In addition, in line with common ethical practice for most qualitative projects, it was made clear that the researcher is an academic and not a medical doctor, counselor, or a therapist and therefore not trained to engage in discussions of this kind.

Finally, immediately prior to the interview starting, having made this information explicitly clear, participants were finally reminded that participation is their choice and asked if they still wish to partake in the interview.

Participation and Consent Forms

The participation sheets and consent form were issued to seek informed consent, as advised in the literature (Gratton and Jones, 2004; Cohen, Manion and Morrison, 2007; Flick, 2009; Kumar, 2011).

The participants who were interviewed in person signed their consent form on paper.

Following Kozinets’ (2009) advice, those who were interviewed via Skype were sent a form on MS Word, with boxes they could tick and where their email address could be entered as a signature.

Before the interview, they sent me the form (Appendix 2) back as an attachment, by email, as a way to confirm agreement and identity.

Additional Safeguards for Skype Research

The Skype® / EVAER® interview technique required additional ethical safeguards due to the non-face-to-face nature of the interview, therefore:

  • Participants were informed when recording had begun, paused or stopped. All participants were offered the opportunity to listen to a copy of the audio recording of the interview (thus responding to Plummer’s points 4 & 5: Unintended deception and accuracy of portrayal respectively).
  • Online storage facilities were avoided in preference for a password-protected and encrypted computer and external hard drives (responding to Plummer’s point 6: confidentiality).
  • Participants were counseled on the selection of appropriate locations from which they were interviewed with reference to issues of privacy (responding to Plummer’s point 6: confidentiality).
  • The researcher created a specific Skype account for this research study. At the termination of the study, the Skype account was closed and all the participant online details and data were removed (responding to Plummer’s point 6: confidentiality).

Transcription and Data Collection

Once collected, data were transcribed and stored on a password-protected computer. Only the people involved in the project have access to this information.

The fact that it is desirable to keep the data indefinitely was, however, stressed to the participants.

They were provided with the opportunity not to consent to this. This was documented on the consent form (Appendix 2).

One final consideration regards the issue of anonymity, linked to confidentiality (Plummer’s (2001) point 6 in Figure 6).

One of my participants, a professional dancer, asked for her name to be used, rather than a pseudonym.

Also, McDonald (2010) in her Ph.D. about belly dance, used the names of most of her participants and informers, which made me wonder if she did it because practitioners wanted to be recognized to show their contribution to the field.

Indeed, Grinyer (2009), following her research on the families with young adults affected by cancer, found out that most of the families she interviewed wanted their real names to be used in publications, to retain ownership of their stories.

Pseudonyms and Acknowledgments

Thus (also considering the non-sensitive nature of my study) I decided to ask all my other participants if they wanted to be kept anonymous, if they wanted their names to be mentioned in the acknowledgments but a pseudonym be used next to their quotations, or if they wanted to be named openly.

The majority chose to be named openly and all of them were happy for their names to be mentioned at least in the acknowledgments.

Overall, I felt I needed to give them the choice, as I wanted to show my gratitude and appreciation for their help.

Ethics for the Textual Data Sources and Online Videos

As all the materials gathered for this study are in the public domain, no ethical issues were identified.

However, particularly regarding materials gathered online, I asked myself the question posed by Marshall and Rossman (2010, p. 162), ‘are the producers of these artifacts likely to feel exposed or that their privacy has been violated if these materials are used?’.

Regarding websites and blogs written by Raqs sharqi practitioners, the answer was no, as practitioners write about Raqs sharqi so that their ideas can be shared and I did not come across any material that was sensitive, offensive or that may embarrass the person who wrote it.

In judging the potential harm caused by using these sources for the research I used an inductive approach, as suggested by Markham and Buchanan (2012, p. 4) who posit that ‘ethical decision-making is best approached through the application of practical judgment attentive to the specific context’.

Blogs and Research Ethics

Regarding blogs, as they may be considered quite personal, I share Walker Rettberg’s (2008, p. 57) opinion that ‘bloggers . . . write into the world with a clear expectation of having readers’.

I made sure though to properly quote the sources I came across, to give credit to the writers, and to acknowledge their intellectual property rights as per Plummer’s point 1 (Figure 6).

I was aware of what Bakardjieva and Feenberg (2000, p. 236) refer to as ‘alienation’ in online research, meaning ‘the appropriation of the products of somebody’s action for purposes never intended or foreseen by the actor herself’; however, I did not think this was applicable to websites and blogs openly accessible to the public and with no sensitive information.

Thus, I treated the Internet, as Bruckman (2002, p. 229) suggests, as a ‘playground for amateur artists’ in which ‘people deserve credit for their creative work’.

Forum Posts and Research Ethics

With forum posts and comments under YouTube videos, I used some of them for my research, quoting the username of the person who posted them.

I did so only for sites where comments could be seen by everyone without the need to log in and for comments that were neutral and not embarrassing for anyone, or that did not contain personal information.

I did not directly use any data from Facebook discussions, as Facebook is half public/half private.

As I read threads of comments on Facebook, it felt as though these were personal conversations between friends, which can be overheard but are still private to a certain degree.

As Buchanan and Zimmer (2012) point out, it is never easy to know if Facebook users meant a post to be visible or not because a user may have ‘failed to completely understand how to adjust the privacy settings accordingly.

Or, the information might have previously been restricted to only certain friends, but a change in the technical platform suddenly made the data more visible to all.

I followed Kozinet’s (2009, p. 142) advice, as he suggests that ‘we should probably treat the recording of conversations in a chat-room, or activity and interaction differently from the way we treat asynchronous communications that are more clearly intended as postings for mass and public communication’.

Hence, I only used these conversations as ‘a window into naturally occurring behaviours’ (Kozinets, 2009, p. 56), to assess what the major concerns were in the online community and identify potential research participants.

I then followed Kozinet’s general guidelines according to which (2009, p. 151):

As a netnographer . . . interacts as other members do on the site but also takes fieldnotes . . . there is no need to gain informed consent for those interactions. When these interactions occur as an asynchronous, persistent communication such as posting on a bulletin board, then this material may be quoted subject to the guidelines on direct quotations. . . . With ephemeral, synchronous, real-time communication media such as chat or conversation in game spaces or virtual worlds, the researcher should never record those interactions without gaining explicit permission.

Kozinets (2009)

YouTube Videos and Research Ethics

Finally, regarding online videos, I watched and analyzed them as they are available for all to watch freely.

There are though copyright issues with videos, in particular, those with dance scenes taken from old Egyptian movies.

Many practitioners used to post several dance scenes from Egyptian movies online.

However, the companies that own the rights to these movies claimed that their copyright had been infringed and YouTube closed the accounts of the users who had posted those videos.

So, with these videos, there is a conflict between those who regard the dance scenes in them as valuable cultural content worthy of being shared with all (these old Egyptian movies are very hard to find outside of the Middle East), and those who see the films as their property.

During this research, I downloaded some of these videos so I could keep a record of them for further analysis, but I will not share them publicly, nor will I seek financial gain from them, in accordance with Plummer’s (2001) point 7 (Figure 6) and with fair usage laws (U.S. Copyright Office) section 107).

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