Archive for the ‘ethics’ Category

A recent post on a blog I read is mostly intended for a crowd of academics, but I think the message is one that a general audience might also find thought provoking. There is a trend (or perhaps habit), more obvious in certain academic disciplines/fields than others, to see the fact of multiple perspectives (social, cultural, or theoretical in origin) as stripping us of our license to make moral claims about the behaviors or conditions we see in the world. Ponder for a moment the absurdity of looking at the picture linked here and and concluding, “Who am I to pass judgement on this situation? Perhaps this fellow is deeply attached to living on the streets.

This is something I struggle with not only in my work on China, but in my life in China and within a Chinese family. As a non-Chinese (i.e, culturally and in terms if citizenship), it is both the hardest and easiest thing of all to pass judgement on those things I find objectionable or even disgusting. It can be very difficult to avoid either a reflexive unreasonableness grounded in bigotry or ignorance or a total lapse into cultural/moral relativism.

The writer of this post insists that social scientists make themselves irrelevant if they refuse to take on the “messiness” they encounter by at least proposing that such messes are bad in some way or another and ought not to be allowed to persist. I would suggest that it is not just academics who face this problem. Don’t we all have an obligation to say no to (and do something about) those things we find repugnant? Of course the positions we take up will be disputable and will themselves be vigorously opposed in some quarters. But isn’t the initial step of proposing something opposable the most human and humanizing thing we can do?

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Today I’m happy to present a guest post from my colleague Andrew Hodgkins. While this post is not specifically about Chinese education and society, it was part of the session in which I presented on the ethics of research in Mainland China. I hope you enjoy his contribution. If you don’t, I hope you’ll take it out on Andrew and not me!



I need to get something off my chest: Having recently completed my fieldwork, I was asked to present on research ethics – but quite honestly, I am at a loss for words as to what it means to be ethical. This admission is one of those “lessons learned from the field” – ethics (that little voice inside my head telling me what is right and what is wrong) is not easily articulated – this may relate to the fact that researchers are afraid of admitting that they are all to human and make mistakes. We also tend to be so focused on our narrow research areas that ethics is one of those add-ons associated with a myriad of questions required to be answered “properly” by various gate keeping mechanisms designed to provide higher educational institutions with some level of assurance that they have covered themselves legally before cutting  grad students loose into the “field.” As I reflect upon the experience


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