Protecting vulnerable research participants: A Foucault-inspired analysis of ethics committees

Nursing Ethics 18 (5):640-650 (2011)
Abstract
History has demonstrated the necessity of protecting research participants. Research ethics are based on a concept of asymmetry of power, viewing the researcher as powerful and potentially dangerous and establishing ethics committees as external agencies in the field of research. We argue in favour of expanding this perspective on relationships of power to encompass the ethics committees as one among several actors that exert power and that act in a relational interplay with researchers and participants. We employ Michel Foucault’s ideas of power as an omnipresent force which is dynamic and unstable, as well as the notion that knowledge and power are inextricably intertwined. The article discusses how research ethics committees may affect academic freedom. In addition it is pointed out that research participants could be harmed — not only by unfortunate research practices, but also by being subjected to the protective efforts of ethics monitoring bodies
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