Ethical conundrum

Here’s an issue I’ve been dealing with in my recent research.   We (my field methods class and I) have been videotaping two native TSL signers who come in for the morning.  We take 2-3 breaks during the taping. We have their permission to tape them and have  signed waivers that say how we can use the data and how they want to be recognized for their contribution to the research.  The question is this: is it ethical to continue taping during the breaks?  It would be a great way to get naturalistic informal conversation, especially between the two signers.  My gut says no, and we have been turning off the video during breaks.  Is there a more principled argument on either side?

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5 Responses to Ethical conundrum

  1. Claire says:

    I’ve never done this but it’s not so much for ethical reasons about recording. It’s more that because when I’ve been in the field I’ve been basically living with the people I’m working with, I’ve wanted to try to keep a clear demarcation between “work time” and “down time”. That is, because there’s lots of stuff that goes on that shouldn’t be on the recorder, and because I don’t want the people I’m working with to feel like they’re being monitored whenever I’m around, and I want to be able to hang out with them as friends as well. (Of course, I keep an ear out for interesting language in the breaks but I try to remember the questions for work time.)

    One possibility would be to ask if it’s ok to leave the cameras on during a few breaks (that you won’t tell them which in advance but you’ll let them review the tapes and excise anything that’s personal or that they’d prefer is not on the tape). Or you could have some naturalistic conversation time built into a regular session (people usually ignore the recorder after 5-10 minutes).

  2. Jeff says:

    I have done this a few times, but now I avoid doing it, not because of a clear ethical issue (which is not to say I know what the ethics of the situation is), but a more practical one: Since I don’t generally have time to analyze all of a conversation that may take place during downtime, and I may not remember to ask the speakers what they were talking about, I won’t know if there was any sensitive content in it.

    If I don’t know if there’s sensitive material, then I may feel the need to restrict access to the recording until I can figure out if there is any, but at the rate I get through my fieldwork recordings, that could be a very long ways off and, in the meantime, a recording of 55 minutes of perfectly boring paradigms might get restricted for 5 minutes of conversation which is relatively unlikely to contain anything sensitive but might.

    So, if I figure if I really need naturalistic data, I collect it explicitly. I suppose I might miss some nice grammatical constructions as a result, but I think being able to ensure that non-sensitive material is as accessible to legitimate users as possible is worth it (perhaps that’s an actual ethical principle hiding behind my practice).

  3. Evan says:

    have you asked them whether they would mind being recorded during this time?

  4. Ana says:

    If you did not get permission the first time around to record during break time then you do not have consent to do so and should not record.

  5. Natasha Warner says:

    What would be the problem with asking the signers if they’re OK with recording being continued during breaks to record more informal conversation, and if they’re OK with it, submitting an amendment to the human subjects approval to get the permission for this different procedure worked out? Assuming one doesn’t start recording breaks until the permission is in place, and that the signers don’t mind at all. Also assuming that one says something like “if anyone ever starts discussing something you don’t want taped during a break, anyone can ask to have the cameras turned off, and if anyone realizes later that they would rather not have something on tape, that part of the recording will be erased.” That way they don’t have to spend extra time reviewing all the recordings just in case.

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