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Disrupting top down frameworks for ethics: A proactive approach to ‘doing the right thing’ in digital research

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What constitutes ethical design of technologies, ethical use of data, and ethical research about people? In this talk, Professor Annette Markham begins with the premise that “doing the right thing” is an outcome of rhetorically powerful tangles of human and non-human elements, embedded in deep—often invisible—structures of software, politics, and habits. Every action by individuals—whether designers, programmers, marketers, researchers, policy makers or consumers—reinforces, resists, and reconfigures existing ethical boundaries for what is acceptable and just.

How have researchers and regulators been talking and thinking about ethics over the past twenty years? Are we making progress? Despite the development of nuanced approaches for ethics in online inquiry, the general language surrounding ethics has remained ensconced in that of regulations, requirements, and concepts. These discourses privilege and preserve top-down approaches to ethical practice. This traditional framing functions not only morally but epistemologically, reinforcing the deeply flawed premise that the intent and outcomes of research can be known in advance.

This talk proposes a framework of ethics in digital research that emphasizes a future oriented ‘what if’ approach. Placing more responsibility on one’s personal choices is not the most comfortable position, but as the world grows more technologically mediated and digitally saturated, it is particularly important to speculate about future possibilities and harms. Such playful conceptual work is not only useful in developing one’s ethical sensibilities, but constitutes a critical next step in addressing ongoing problems with current legal and regulatory discourses.
Original languageEnglish
Publication year2015
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - 2015
EventEthics of Online Research Methods - Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom
Duration: 16 Apr 201517 Apr 2015


SeminarEthics of Online Research Methods
LocationCardiff University
CountryUnited Kingdom
Internet address

Bibliographical note

This was selected for the Opening Plenary Address

    Research areas

  • Ethics, Research, Digital Culture, internet ethics, Research methods, Qualitative Methods, remix methods

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