Feminist internet ethical research practices

Image description: Flip chart with post-its illustrating the ethical practices. Image source: Documentation by APC-WRP of the inception meeting of the feminist internet research network in February-March 2019 in Malaysia. Image description: Flip chart with post-its illustrating the ethical practices. Image source: Documentation by APC-WRP of the inception meeting of the feminist internet research network in February-March 2019 in Malaysia.

 

Publication date: 
juin 2019
Publisher: 
GenderIT.org

As part of the research hackathon, the WRP team and the peer-advisory committee worked on the first version of the practices document that reflects feminist research practices, politics and values that would be relevant to those in the network, and more broadly in the field of research on internet, feminism and gender. This was then discussed in detail with the research partners in the network. A more detailed transcription of all discussions will be included in the report on the FIRN inception meeting (27 February-1 March 2019).

The practices document builds on feminist politics and values, and existing or conventional ethical requirements and frameworks for researchers (consent, anonymity, sharing research with participants etc.). It draws from decades of feminist work in relation to ethics, care, intersectionality, positionality and standpoint, and also more recently on work in relation to internet-related and data-driven research[1]. This is a collaboratively created tool for self-regulation, reflection and care, and not a document of legal or mandatory requirements or about establishing a review board. In relation to research on the internet, we need to engage with specific ethical requirements that are directly related to this research site or field. The materiality of the technology cannot be separated from the politics of our research inquiry. What also underpins these practices is the feminist politics of knowledge building. These are what guide the questions included below.

In our collective engagement, we pulled out the concepts that were repeatedly emphasised and seemed to resonate with most people. These concepts and words are indicative of shared values around which the ethical practices coalesce. And the questions function as an indicator to assess the research project in relation to the adherence to these shared values. These concepts are expanded upon as questions in the section below.

  • Situatedness

  • Positionality

  • Standpoint

  • Intersectionality

  • Feminist

  • Consent

  • Accountability

  • Reciprocity

  • Care

  • Vulnerability

  • Safety

  • Connections

  • Networks

Questions for ethical research practices towards a feminist internet

The purpose of this listing is to provide a framework by which a project will assess its own ethical practices and risks in the form of questions to guide themselves. This is more in relation to interrogating your methodology, rather than the political framework of the project. However, it is important to remember that ethical practices, methodology and feminist politics productively overlap with each other.

As feminist researchers, these practices are used as a constant evaluation at various points of the research process. It is not a one-time ethical consideration document, but a regular progressive practical approach for each milestone of your research project (this could be during formulating proposal, research questions and methodology, research design, field work and data collection, data analysis, drawing conclusions, distribution, etc.).

As a network, FIRN is not in a position to take responsibility for the multitude of relations and connections that will be part of the research projects. Collectively we have started the process of discussing and documenting what are feminist internet ethical research practices to ensure that there is continuing and active ethical reflexivity inbuilt and integral to the research project.

This should be a document that lives with your project.

Consent
  • Is the consent (of participants in the research) informed?

  • Have we clearly explained goals and objectives of our research?

  • Have we communicated risks and implications of the research on the lives of participants? And have we communicated this effectively? (taking into account language, ability, and other factors)

  • If the ideals of informed consent are not achievable, or only partially achievable, can you explain and document why?

Accountability
  • Do you know who you are accountable to – which persons or community?

  • Does this include a practice of reciprocity with participants and others touched by the research?

  • Do we take ownership of the risks that participants might face?

  • What better ways of engagements are there for us to be more transparent in our processes, outcomes and other stages of the project?

Situatedness
  • Are we aware and do we communicate our location and positionality i.e. our identity, culture, the body we inhabit, race, etc.

  • Do we reflect on privilege (of various kinds) when producing knowledge – is an active reflection that impacts the production?

  • Are we cognisant of power relations, the dynamics and how they might shift, between researcher and research participant within the field of internet research institutional power relations?

  • Is the research process and outputs open to critique?

Intersectionality
  • Do we assume that our condition is universal? And how do we address that?

  • Do we describe and understand context in relation to intersecting powers that are acting upon people?

  • Are we describing people and groups as homogenous – as if they live “single-issue lives”, and not taking into account that they embody multiple and various identities and realities?

  • Are we doing a tokenistic inclusion of various people and groups, or moving towards complicating our understanding of the context in terms of intersecting powers and identities?

Connection
  • In the process of building networks have we stated clearly the types of connection we (seek to) establish with the participants/actors and others

  • Commitments

  • Risks

  • Benefits

  • Have we left space (literally and otherwise) for the possible evolution of relationships? This could be relations within the research team, individual transformations etc.

Memory
  • The feminist politics of knowledge building is also about resisting being forgotten. So here we must ask if people have always been forgotten, how can this be addressed?

  • How can your project contribute to preserving memory and building archives for the community and participants in the research process?

Care and safety

to be understood in terms of care of, care for and care against

  • Does our research process show enough care for the person | information | data | collective?

  • Do we look after those who are vulnerable?

  • Do we ensure not to put anyone at risk, to not (re)produce harm?

  • Do we follow rituals and practices of self-care and collective care?

  • Do we as individuals and as a team, in relation to various other networks and relations, establish boundaries?

  • Care is feminised labour historically expected of women in particular, or specific groups based on caste, class, race, ethnicity etc. Are we aware that care too can be exploitative and do we work against that?

  • Do we have a mechanism for ensuring safety of the person | information | data | collective?

While we understood that to be able to answer positively for all is impossible, these questions are meant to ensure that you thoroughly examine the research process and are able to address various dimensions, pinpoint the compromises made and difficulties faced. This is a working document, not in any way exhaustive. We will potentially learn a lot more through the process itself.

This is a growing, evolving document, and is hackable.

 

[1] See also Hussen. T.S. (2019). Working paper on feminist methodology for FIRN for internal circulation. APC.; Feminist principles of the internet, feministinternet.net; The Engine Room. (2016). The Handbook of the Modern Development Specialist: Being a Complete Illustrated Guide to Responsible Data Usage, Manners and General Deportment

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