Thursday, January 14, 2010

ethics of research

I brought up an interesting research question yesterday, "how to go legal yet stay legit?" in the space of underground/above ground music & arts communities.

I think this topic, although interesting, brings up all sorts of problems in terms of scope and ethics. Summer of 2008, I spent a month in Amsterdam doing research on the traces and current subcultural identity of the squatting movement within Amsterdam. Squatting, at it's broadest, is the act of occupying and utilization a space which is otherwise unoccupied, and although not common in the states, was a movement that was especially strong in parts of Europe, such as the Netherlands, during recent history. While some forms of squatting was legalized, and a couple squatted venues were eventually bought and legalized, the squatting movement was active both underground and aboveground. In the 2000s, the Dutch government was slowly putting the pressure on to evict squatters and squash the movement. As both a participant and as a researcher, I was hesitant to expose all that I have uncovered. What was my ethical obligations as a researcher to "do no harm?" Through various discussions with my professors, and the people at UW's Human Subjects Division Office (since all research projects must be approved by the Institutional Review Board), I was approved to conduct research following a set of guidelines.

But then there was this issue of what I was personally comfortable with sharing. Could disclosure of certain knowledge negatively impact the people I've talked within the movement, or could it negatively impact myself and my ability to move through these spaces? These issues were probably the most difficult things to grapple with during my project. And I think similar parallels can be drawn to doing a project about a scene that spans both the underground and the aboveground.

For example, there are several music/art spaces within Seattle that I know do make their location public information. Places such as the Josephine, The Black Lodge, or HTFC, do advertising their existence and events, but not their location. Is it difficult to get a hold of this info? Probably not, but for some reason it's not just out there. So in doing a project that examines the change from legal status from underground and potentially illegal status, which spaces should even be research? By limiting the scope of the project to spaces that are already legal and therefore no problem publishing all about them, it leaves an entire half of the equation unaddress, except from a historial lookback at now-legal spaces. What are the allowable boundaries? the ethical ones? and to what scope am I comfortable with examining some things that are probably best left underground?


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