FFSS99, Workshop IV
Group leaders: Lauri Honko (Finland) and Margaret Mills (U.S.A.) Visiting group leaders: Bente Gullveig Alver (Norway) and Tove Fjell (Norway)
Report by Sabine Wienker-Piepho (Germany), Karen Miller (U.S.A.), Sadhana Naithani (India), Judy Rangnes (U.S.A./Norway), Sinikka Vakimo (Finland), Armi Pekkala (Finland).
Discussants: John Shaw (U.K.), Ulrich Marzolph (Germany), Anna-Leena Siikala (Finland), John Foley (U.S.A.), Dell Hymes (U.S.A.), Barbro Klein (Sweden).
NB: Workshop IV did not produce a written narrative about its results. The report consisted of comments on folkloristic research ethics and of materials such as a bibliography and comparative chart of relevant ethical declarations and a field diagram of core problems. The basic document is an audiotape from which the editor has abbreviated and partly reformulated the following excerpts. The transcript of the original audiotape is available at the FF Network office.
Ethical behaviour in folklore research means responsible, appropriate and honest scholarship which respects and safeguards those who impart information about folkloric tradition. This presupposes respect for general human rights and the privacy of individuals. Our comments are restricted to research ethics in folklore studies, not global or general topics of human ethics. Why are research ethics important? We suggest that they shape the entire research process from its planning to the printed text and even after that. Ethical factors are present when a scholar makes his or her preliminary study plans and when the research is carried out. That is why ethical issues must be considered during the entire research process.
Workshop IV has been tackling the thorny and often unanswerable questions of folklore research ethics. We found ourselves in a unique and delightful position of having had a group of not only insightful and bright scholars to work with but also a wonderful mix of experiences and opinions that expanded our horizons and perceptions concerning the ethics of folklore research. The workshop began by each of us sharing our individual questions and interests as they have pertained to research ethics. Along with some of the dilemmas that each of us has had or might encounter in our work. We were provided with a comprehensive set of ethical codes that have been created by various international bodies. The names and Internet addresses of these organizations are listed below. We sought to examine these various codes with the intention of clarifying the constituency each of these codes seems to be addressing and to find what might be missing from these codes. We also sought to see how folklore researchers could contribute to this body of codes in a constructive way which meets the unique needs of folklore research. Because folkloristics involves representation of individuals and communities, its results can have lasting and profound effects upon all concerned.
Here is a brief list of keywords and issues that we found in the corpus of cases we examined. 1) Purpose of research. Define the purpose and aims of your study. 2) Impact statements. Should all scholars write statements detailing the reasons for their research? 3) Responsibility. Is it to the archival material or to the informants and must this be a necessary dichotomy? What is our responsibility to the funding institutions that support our research? 4) Informants. Protection of informants and also the collective community interest beyond that of an individual. 5) Informed consent. Should this be obtained from every informant before research is initiated in all cases? Should we allow informants to see and edit all transcripts? 6) Accessibility. Is the first contact in fieldwork with institutions or individuals and what is the effect of that proceed alignment by the community as a result of that choice? Accessibility to the use of archives by commercial interests and a subsequent risk of the abuse or exploitation of these materials. Accessibility to archival material in the light of Internet technology. Access by the native peoples to their own artefacts and the issues of repatriation. 7) Reciprocity. In what way can the researchers give back to communities, individuals or families with whom they have worked? 8) Ownership of material. This includes ownership by individual or community, copyrighting intellectual property issues, and how we can conceptualise and contest cultural information.
This diagram represents an abstraction of the issues discussed in Workshop IV devoted to folkloristic research ethics. It does not reflect any kind of process or movement between the categories that are mentioned. It is circular because the issues of ethics have often tended to be circular. That is: there is no finite and definite beginning or end and we do not have the luxury and comfort of finite and definite arguments. In the circle there is a cross. On its vertical axis you have folklorist at the bottom and folklore at the top. On the horizontal axis you find narrators and publication. The folklorist happens to be at the bottom because it is due to him or her that the entire circle comes into being. There are three co-centric circles here. In the innermost circle you have ethics, the nucleus of our discussion. The next circle shows that all these arcs and categories are connected. The third circle displays the various issues and categories that we have been discussing. In commenting on the diagram, I shall move from the folklorist to narrators to folklore to publication and back to the folklorist.
In the first arc we have two categories, one the objective power equation and the other the interpersonal relation. The objective power equation is that in which the folklorist and the narrator find themselves. This may be between rural and urban, or intercultural or any other power equation. The other category “interpersonal relation” indicates the processes and relations which derive from this objective power equation between the folklorist and the narrators.
In the second arc we find the ethical issues of rights and ownership. One of them concerns the individual ownership of tradition or of a performance based on tradition. Does that which has been narrated by a narrator become his or her individual narrative? Does he have the individual right to give that narrative further? Or is that right with the community?
With that thorny question we move on to the third arc, which depicts the relation between folklore and its publication. Here the issues of ethics are actualised at various stages. First, there is the stage where orality is transformed into written word or into anything else for that matter. There are issues involved in transcription as well as in translation. Second, there is the process of selection. We have used the word “documentation”, which sounds very neutral but which in fact represents a plausible selection: one selects out of a large corpus of materials what is documented and what is given further in publication. Third, there is the issue of archiving. As we have seen in the other workshop dealing with archiving, there are ethical dilemmas involved there too.
When it comes to publication, again the arc between the publication and the folklorist poses at least two ethical problems. One is the issue of copyright and the other is the issue of gain and loss, by which is meant not only the material gain but also intangible spiritual gains and losses.
All these categories are variously related, and their combination may differ from one situation to another. They may not always exist in the same relation to each other. The middle circle also shows that once a collection of folklore exists, all these categories are combined and the ethical issues that have come up in the process of research may live on.
Workshop IV, Folkloristic Research Ethics, compared 10 statements, guidelines and codes of ethics. All are available via the Internet except for one. The reviewed items were as follows:
A. Fiftieth Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1998.
B. Draft Treaty for the Protection of Expressions of Folklore Against Illicit Exploitation and Other Prejudicial Actions.
C. Recommendation on the Safeguarding of Traditional Culture and Folklore, 1989.
D. A Statement of Ethics for the American Folklore Society, 1988.
E. National Association for the Practice of Anthropology. Ethical Guidelines for Practitioners, 1988.
F. Statements on Ethics. Principles of Professional Responsibility, 1971.
G. Statement on Problems of Anthropological Research and Ethics, 1967.
H. Resolution on Freedom of Publication, 1948.
I. Code of Ethics of the American Anthropological Association, 1998.
J. Forskningsetiske retningslinjer for samfunnsvitenskap, jus og humaniora; Vedtatt 6. desember 1993. Oslo: NESH Forskningsparken, 5. Opplag, feb 1998. (Ethical Research Guidelines from the Norwegian National Research Ethics Committee for Social and Human Sciences [NESH], approved December 6, 1993. Oslo: NESH Forskningsparken, 5th edition, February 1998 .)1
These documents range from the broad universal Declaration of Human Rights (A), to the multidisciplinary Norwegian Ethical Research Guidelines (J) and include various discipline-specific documents: four statements for anthropologists (E, F, G, H, I) and three for folklore/folklorists (B, C, D). From these documents 31 evaluation topics were identified in addition to a 32nd category for miscellaneous issues. The findings were plotted in a table format that made it easy to see which statements did or did not address which aspects of ethical research. The table does not, however, provide for an in-depth qualitative comparison of the content of statements made on research ethics issues, although it can be used as a springboard for such a study.
Here I will first focus on what the three folkloristic documents (B, C, D) say about folkloristic research ethics. When possible, I will draw in observations from the remaining documents as related to the three specifically folkloristic documents. My main goal is to inform readers of the conclusions drawn by the Workshop IV group on the review of these 10 ethics documents.
The first evaluative topic considered during our comparative review was the document’s intention. We found that intentions varied significantly. Support for ethical decision making in the research process can easily be achieved by simply finding a statement, code or guideline that meets the researcher’s particular interests in a particular case. It would be relatively easy to find a guideline that did not mention any problematic aspects of a particular research situation.
Of the three folkloric documents, B and C share similar intentions: to protect “expressions of folklore” (B) and “documented folklore” (C). In contrast, document D, the American Folklore Society statement of ethics from 1988, states its goal as being to clarify the professional responsibilities of professional folklorists.
A closer look at each “object of protection” as defined in documents B and C shows that for document C specified “objects of protection” are: 1) folklore materials, access rights to their own folklore for cultural communities, transmitters and informants, collectors and intellectual property. In addition recognition of the responsibilities of archives is mentioned. The other documents reviewed mention other objects of protection such as human rights (A), those who the research may affect (E), primarily those studied (F), the research itself and the right to publish (G), the scientist and the researcher’s control over their own work (H), the work environment and animals (I), public figures, children, the dead, organizations and groups, national security and privacy (J). The variation is noteworthy and can be used to broaden any understanding of research ethics.
Variation was also found in all the other 29 topics of review and the more open category “miscellaneous”. While an in-depth look at all the evaluative topics is interesting, it would prove too long in this context. Comments here are limited to the few main conclusions drawn by Workshop IV from our analysis of the codes.
Two conclusions have already been mentioned. It was further observed that honesty was not stressed in very many of the documents. Of the three folkloric documents, only D mentions the obligation to be honest. This is related to the situation of 1) presenting research results to the public and 2) presenting one’s own professional qualifications to a potential employer. Documents I and J would also have the honesty obligation include being honest to informants about funding sources for research as well as research objectives and the intended future use of the research. Our discussion group felt the wider aspect of honesty should have been better represented in more of the documents.
The issue of informed voluntary consent is similar to that of honesty in many ways. It was also underrepresented in the ethics documents. The issue of informed consent is not mentioned in documents B or C. It is, however, mentioned in document D, which clearly states that, “The aims of the investigation should be communicated as is possible to the informant” (D1, Section 1b). In addition, all “individuals and groups likely to be affected” are also to be informed “as fully as possible” of the “anticipated consequences of the research” (D2, Section 1f).
Further, “folklorists should be honest about their qualifications, capabilities, and aims.” Similarly, employers of folklorists should make known to potential employees the aims and probable uses of research projects. If such information is not provided, it is the folklorist’s obligation “to reflect upon the purposes of their sponsors in terms of those sponsors’ past behavior and what the likely uses of their research data will be” before “entering into any commitment for research” (D2, Section 5). As stated in document D Section 5, “Folklorists should be especially careful not to promise or imply acceptance either of conditions contrary to their professional ethics or of competing commitments, and they should demand assurance that they will not be required to compromise their professional responsibilities and ethics as a condition of the sponsors’ permission to pursue research.” Whereas documents B and C do not mention informed consent in any way, document D thus mentions several varieties of informed consent in order to protect informants, affected individuals and groups, sponsors and folklorists themselves. The researcher must not accept researching assignments where professional standards of ethics may in some way be compromised.
While the participants of Workshop IV agreed on the importance of informed consent in different contexts, there was some disagreement in cases where the information gained would be compromised if the informants knew of the research process. This is especially complex when society might benefit greatly from the information obtained by covert research methods. In spite of the disagreements on this point, it was in general, however, seen as unsatisfactory that four of the ten documents, two of which are folkloristic, do not mention informed consent at all.
The remaining conclusions of our review regarded the responsibilities of archives, the appropriate and ethical use of photography and the appropriate and ethical use of videotape. The use of photography and videotape was not mentioned in any of the ten documents. This was surprising given the usefulness of these media and the recent dates of the codes, statements and guidelines. The discussion of Workshop IV included several cases involving ethical aspects of the use of photography and videotapes. There is a need to address the issues surrounding these particular material forms and to include them in ethics codes, statement and guidelines.
The issue of archiving was, however, mentioned only in a limited fashion, in document C. It states that “Member States [of Unesco] should recognise the responsibility of archives to monitor the use made of the materials gathered” (C4, Section F). Behind these few words lay far-reaching responsibilities and many potential ethical dilemmas. The discussion can be stretched to include what lies between the lines of document J: the implication that archives as political institutions have particular ethical responsibilities related to their particular role as political institutions (J, p. 27). In general, the members of Workshop IV felt that the importance of the archival tasks regarding expressions of folklore requires a more detailed ethical guideline than any of the 10 documents reviewed provided.
Focusing primarily on the three documents (B, C and D) for folklorists and folklore in particular, but also using as a tool the other research ethics documents from the fields of Anthropology, Humanities and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Workshop IV found the comparison to be quite useful. What the one document overlooks the next document expounds upon. The documents complement each other. In our discussions of different ethics cases we often found that flexibility needed to be applied when making ethical evaluations. The cases could not always be squeezed into a predictable mold that one particular guideline could easily address. It became evident that the documents reviewed were neither functionally whole nor responsive to the complexities of possible and actual research ethics dilemmas. The need for a fundamental and broad review of any guideline in the context of actual cases and in comparison with other similar guidelines was the consensus of the group’s code review.
Ultimately no folklore research ethics code would be able to take account of every research situation. The cultural situations folklorists encounter are diverse and the ethical stances are culturally bound. Because of this such a universal code might, besides failing to be particularly helpful, actually inhibit appropriate ethical behaviour and raise unnecessary obstacles to scholarship. Nevertheless, we need guidelines for ethical behaviour in dealing with contemporary issues, living culture, individuals or other dimensions of human life. Due to the amazing flexibility required by cross-cultural studies we submit to the Folklore Fellows’ Summer School 99 a processual view which contains some of our conclusions about the ethical practice of research in folkloristics. We want to create awareness about the diversity of ethical dilemmas folklorists may encounter in their research. The structure of our presentation follows the process of research right from the choice of topic to the feedback from the source.
The research stages encompass the preparation, which includes the choice of topic, relevant informants or research material, arranging the research funding, etc. The execution of the research touches upon the research methods, interaction with the people involved and modes of documentation. Issues that must be taken into consideration in archiving and publishing include the following: adequate, valid argumenting in textualising the results, feedback of results to the communities studied, copyright, the distribution of research materials in the media or the Internet, etc. The following are some examples of how the ideal and real world may conflict when dealing with ethical matters.
First, on the preparation of the study. One fundamental ethical practice is the definition of the purpose of the study. If you can truthfully define the purposes and aims of your study in such a way that both you and those who are studied as well as society in general consider it important to carry on, it should be continued. Numerous ethical problems can be avoided if the purpose and the theoretical frame of the study are clearly defined in advance. Some topics are more sensitive than others. There are topics that cannot be studied in an ethically rational manner. Therefore these topics should not be researched. Before even contemplating interviewing people, all scholars should ponder and explicate the reasons for their study. Questions to be answered are: what do I want to know? Why is this study important? What value might this study have to the community? Is my interest in this topic responsible and appropriate or is it voyeuristic? Underlining this question is the assumption that there is some information which the researcher or academy is not entitled to. Will the study which we might pursue through interviews, observation, participation, etc., harm anyone? What methods should I employ? What methods will best answer my questions? What methods will be respectful and sensitive to my informants? Will I acknowledge when co-authorship is called for? Ideally at least, if researchers discover that their research will hurt someone, they should not engage in it.
Then comes reality. This requirement might unnecessarily tie up research project planning. We learn things in the process that are impossible to account for in advance. It was argued that someone always pays the bill for academic research. Despite wishes and efforts to the contrary, someone is often hurt. Thus the researcher has to balance the benefits and costs of the study and consider whether the overall benefits justify the costs and how to minimise any negative effects of the study. As to the responsibilities to informants: in doing research, the scholars should be aware of the spheres of responsibilities involved in their study. First, we all agreed that we have responsibility for our informants and objects of research be they groups, communities or cultures. The dilemma here concerns the explorative nature of qualitative methods. This means that we in fact cannot fully anticipate what we are going to do or what conclusions we will reach in our study. Second, we have responsibility to society at large, to all humans. We are expected to produce sensible and truthful knowledge of traditions and cultures, even though we know that that objective truth does not exist.
Researchers must position and contextualise their work before initiating their study. In consequence, the researchers are compelled to choose a side before beginning the research, asking themselves whose truth they are willing to mediate. As regards informed consent: voluntary informed consent should be obtained from every informant before research is initiated. Informed consent should continually be renegotiated throughout the process from initial contact to final work. It should be understood that at any stage an informant may withdraw consent. Even when observing public occasions, one should seek permission from individuals. Ideally, it is not enough to obtain permission from the leaders of organisations, officials or administrators to collect material. Explicit consent must be sought from all the participants in your study.
Clandestine observation is at all times inappropriate and immoral and, if unconscious, should be rectified as soon as it is known and appropriate consent requested. In reality, however, we do not always realise that we are collecting information when we are in fact doing so. Personal conversations in grocery stores, at parties, bus stops and life experience in general can become relevant to research at a later date. Must we rule out the use of information provided from everyday situations as we do not anticipate that this information will become part of our research material? This topic raised lively debate among our workshop participants. Most of us felt that researchers should be entitled to their own experience. However, if a researcher wishes to use the material and the obtained truth is hidden behind unintentional observation, the ethical principles of research must be applied. Those observed should be informed, even if at a later date, and before information is used or published, permission should be obtained.
Sometimes the volume of informants or people involved in a study is such that obtaining the consent is unrealistic. In certain cases the only way to get information is to do so in a deceptive or hidden manner. If one were to ask direct questions, information would not be available. Some people in the group considered that information that could not be obtained in a straightforward way was not appropriate for ethically performed research.
Problems of compensation and reciprocity can emerge in the course of research. It is important to have a feedback strategy from the beginning of the research process. The following are some questions which might help in the formulation of the strategy. How are you going to thank your informants for their time and information? Will you share the profits from publications and promotions? Remembering, of course, that such profit sharing does not indicate transfer of ownership of cultural materials or the right to use traditional information. Will you maintain friendship? Will you be responsible to the community in your scholarship? Will you give to the community in concrete ways, for example, by donating educational materials for schoolchildren, by giving medicines, etc.? These are considerations which should be anticipated and integrated in the research strategy.
Now we move on to the next stage: conducting the research. The choice of methods has ethical implications. Methods involve principles of general strategy and ultimately determine how the research material will be analysed. Pondering on research problems and deciding the interpretive frame may lead to the exclusion of particularly sensitive material or to the marginalisation of certain usages and cultural attitudes observable in the group under study.
Another concern we may label “proximity vs. distance”: the research must consider the relationship with informants in terms of proximity and distance. Often in the process of fieldwork the boundary between research and friend is blurred. In addition, the interaction between informant and researcher may have an impact on both in the course of research, especially in long-term fieldwork. The complicated and multi-dimensional researcher role frequently produces interesting and unique information as well as responsibilities.
Ideally, the nature of human research relationships shapes the data collected. For example, while conducting research on sensitive subjects, closeness and trust between research partners is necessary. However, information obtained through friendship should not be used for professional purposes without permission. If the informant understands you to be a trusted friend you must act as one in addition to the general responsibility to protect your informant. In reality, however, it is not easy to distinguish which information is gained through friendship and which through research. Obligations of friendship may be differently understood due to differences of cultural background between researcher and respondents.
More and more material exists as audio transcripts. The increasing use of taperecordings in modern folkloristic research has raised the problem of controlling the output of interview situations. Usually the recordings are transcribed verbatim by the researcher and used as such in the final results. However, informants cannot anticipate what they are going to say and or do in recording situations. Every culture and group defines certain topics as inappropriate to be discussed or shown to outsiders. In addition, individuals usually have part of their lives which they would like to keep private.
Ideally, we agreed that transcripts of interviews should be seen, edited and approved by informants before publication. It is the researchers’ duty to protect their informants. In an open interview sensitive material is disclosed. It is the responsibility of the researcher to make sure that this information is excluded unless specific instructions from the informant indicate otherwise. In reality, however, some informants are illiterate or otherwise unable to participate in the editing of transcripts. In certain cases having an informant approve a transcript would require extensive travel in order to sit with the informant and read it to them. Few research projects provide such funding. The sheer number of informants in some studies logistically precludes the possibility of getting approval on materials. Informants may not be aware of the possible effects of publicity in the wider world, so they could consent without full awareness of the possible impacts.
Another problem is archiving, once again. The archiving of research materials is one of the phases almost every folklorist encounters during his/her study. In fact, folklorists could be acknowledged as experts in this field. Much folklore material has been collected in archives since the 19th century. Material collected for a certain purpose should be handled with special care. Access to the archive materials should be granted to the people studied. Yet, at the same time the material must be protected against illegal or immoral exploitation. The new archive methods such as digitalisation and web-site archiving raise issues such as copyright and the dissemination of material.
One prominent question still remains unanswered: ownership of the material. Who has the right to claim control over the material? How are these rights to be established or distributed? Ideally, cultural communities should have access to the material which they have given to collectors and archives. They should have the right to decide whether they want these to be used or not for a particular purpose.
The researcher must also have certain rights to the material she or he has collected under research consent agreements. Material should be protected against misuse or exploitation. On the other hand, the material should be accessible and easy to handle. Close association between archives and educational institutions is required but may need explicit ethical codes. Harmonising archival systems in order to achieve general access to cultural materials is a stated goal. In reality, however, various political situations have effects on archives. Communities and archives may have different goals in collecting and dealing with the material. Different archiving systems create different interpretations.
Digitalisation creates new questions of copyright. The electronic availability of materials may open up new avenues for their uncontrolled use.Yet extensive parts of archive materials are likely to remain untouched or unresearched. Does this constitute a problem? Do we have a moral obligation to publish according to expectations we have encouraged in people?
And then publishing: the final step in a research process is the publication of the study. This should be done in a careful manner taking into account the accuracy of documentation, reliability of analysis and validity of the results according to the standards of the discipline. Ideally, publication should create appreciation for the people who have been involved in the research process. Documentation and analysis should be conducted in an accurate and representative manner with benefits to the society in general, including the advantages to science.
In reality, however, new problems of privacy may arise. Results valid from the academic point of view may not seem so to the individuals or communities studied. This is one reason for the need for feedback and compensation: persons involved in the study must have the opportunity to respond to the results.
Our research requires us to respect not only our discipline’s professional methodologies but also to inform the non-professional co-researchers we encounter in our field. We recognise that sharing our knowledge with students, scholars, media, archives or museums will contribute to our discipline in terms of improving our teaching and training techniques as well as our methods of research evaluation. Ideally, feedback must be given both before and after publication. First, informants have the right to see the transcripts before their publication. Second, after publication the persons involved should have the right to respond publicly or to criticise if they wish. In reality, however, there may be no arena for their criticism to be heard.
By way of conclusion: the need for ethical guidelines in folkloristic research was acknowledged in our working group. However, we should be careful not to use our codes or recommendations as sleeping pillows. We should not begin to think that we are safe and secure if we know that codes or guidelines exist. Rather we must remember to apply these ethical standards at every stage of the research process.
In the subsequent discussion diverse aspects of the report were scrutinised. Here are a few of the many points raised.
Anna-Leena Siikala pointed out the difficulties of creating anonymity: using invented names and labels may prove cumbersome when extended to ethnic groups, villages, etc. Asking permission for the use of material may also prove impossible in certain cases (it may be painful for the informant to reconstruct what he or she confided in an earlier interview). Margaret Mills felt that privacy must be respected but that anonymity may not always work (a striking life history may not be possible to conceal, for example). John Shaw stressed the importance of genealogy for narrative traditions in many a community. People need to know exactly who the persons are in the narratives, otherwise their understanding and interpretation becomes awkward. A book where pseudonyms are used is extremely frustrating for them. John Foley referred to Barre Toelken’s experience with the Navaho and the so called Yellowman tapes which brought into focus the question: who has the right to control culturally produced performances and texts based on them, the narrator, his family, his tribe or the scholarly community interested in Navaho culture? Margaret Mills pointed out that there may be differences of opinion in this respect within the ethnic community itself, and Dell Hymes reminded us that this was by no means the first time that fieldworkers and scholarly institutions had encountered such problems.
Do we have a general code of ethics which we can apply across cultures and peoples? Anna-Leena Siikala questioned the existence of such a code and stressed the differences between cultural attitudes and societal structures. That is why we must be alert in estimating the consequences of our work in the community we are studying: our determination to be good and to do good may not be enough. Margaret Mills saw a risk in a kind of “zero ethics” which leads us to a “relativity trap”. We constantly face ethical and cultural contests which force us to make decisions about values even on an individual basis. Principles and reality may conflict in a way which makes us ponder on the multiple consequences of principles. Barbro Klein admitted that there comes a point where the scholar must make a choice but she warned against making personal choices on one level while maintaining relativistic attitudes on another, say, epistemological level. Anna-Leena Siikala said that she was not advocating ethical relativism but thinking on the importance of understanding situations encountered in actual research.
Margaret Mills raised the question why fieldworkers assemble detailed information about storytellers’ and performers’ background such as their religious affiliation and other features, as is done with the help of Collcards used at the TKU folkloristic archives at the University of Turku. Lauri Honko said that religious affiliation is of the utmost importance in India, for example. As long as you do not know whether you are dealing with Muslim or Hindu (and special caste) traditions, you are likely to go astray in your conclusions. As to the sensitivity of this information, it is a more Western habit to regard religious affiliation as a private affair. The informants in India did not see the situation in that way, because community affiliation was, for them, socially constitutive and not secret, despite its religious dimension. More generally, the information stored on Collcards is protected as any other material in the archives and kept confidential when necessary. Margaret Mills referred to her experience in Afghanistan and said that since asking about religious affiliation would normally confront people and groups against each other she would normally refrain from it. Lauri Honko stressed that much depends on the context in which the information is retrieved. If you are studying oral poetry and the material as such is not very sensitive, the question of the religious and societal affiliation of the singers may be posed without any harm. Collcards are like fieldnotes, they contain material for a responsible analyst to be used only in ways that are not harmful to individuals and communities. If the best singers of oral epics seem to come from the lower castes, the analyst must be able to pay attention to that fact and not censor it from his study. As professional researchers, we must be able to handle also sensitive information but, naturally, in a responsible way. Anna-Leena Siikala said that in some cultures religion may be a sensitive area while in others it is not. There are cultures where people really want to inform you about their religious tradition and it would be impolite not to listen to them.
Ulrich Marzolph thanked the participants for their contributions and commented on the handouts: they clearly show how intensive the discussion in the group must have been. Yet, he asked, would it be possible to complement the material with a written narrative report? Anna-Leena Siikala stated that ethical questions are among the most difficult ones and congratulated the group on its impressive work.
Barbro Klein stressed that research always involves risk taking: scholars are putting themselves on the line. They must make decisions which have ethical implications. The question is whether it is possible to formulate recommendations which would make it easier to handle this decision making and risk taking. Margaret Mills felt that the risk is always situational: the scholar is working according to the sensitivities of his/her situation and must take informed responsibility in time and place. That sounds simple but it is not.
Lauri Honko mentioned a Nordic project called the FF Code of Ethics which aims at assessing the need for a folkloristic code of research ethics. In the present workshop, in which many of the project members took part, opinions were, however, divided as to the usefulness of stated rules and codes as opposed to more philosophising essays on ethical problems. At any rate, a wider interest seems to be there, since the International Society for Folk Narrative Research has established a special committee to investigate research ethics. Perhaps it will exert influence in this matter. Ulrich Marzolph reported that he had, as the convener of that committee, sent to 45 members of the society who had expressed interest in participating in the committee’s work an invitation to comment on ethical problems in folkloristics. Only five responded. It seems difficult to create a broad debate. The committee was established under the assumption that scholars face ethical questions in the field and that they would profit from discussing them openly. The situation is more complex: the interest may be there but willingness to act may be lacking. Margaret Mills suspected that scholars may like the idea of a ready-made code of ethics which would then take care of the problem. Yet a general recipe is hard to find because scholars are governed by organisational, national and other situational codes which may make general recommendations obsolete. What remains is to see that we understand our legal environments and then make case and situationally appropriate choices. Ulrich Marzolph reminded of the origin of the existing stated ethical codes: most of them required many years to prepare and several rounds of feedback. Such work could not be duplicated by a short workshop.
The discussion concluded with recommendations for further measures such as making relevant materials available on the Internet and finding ways to make individual comment and participation more attractive. It was pointed out that many funding institutions require an assessment of the ethical questions involved in a particular research project as a prerequisite for a research grant.
1 The comparison of ten ethicalstatements was presented in the form of a table which we are unable to reproduce here. The editor asked Judy Rangnes to write a few observations on the comparison which could be read without the table. She consentedand gave us the text published here.
(FFN 20, November 2000: 2-10 )