Friday, October 31, 2003

Another post.... Elizabeth Bishop from Qualidata at the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) visited the Sociology department on Wednesday. Qualidata archives qualitative research data given to it by researchers (though not all) who are funded by the ESRC.
Someone raised the issue of anonymity when researching vulnerable groups, say the homeless, those from minority religions, and the 'underclass'. This person said that some research participants would not want data about them to be archived when others could use the data. Elizabeth reported that anonymity must be assured and guaranteed. However, this does not attend to how much social research is 'political'. For example there are some social researchers from the neo-liberal right who may use someone's research in ways that are harmful to the whole group that was researched. Anonymity of say those from the 'underclass' who were researched may be assured, but subsequent analysis of that research may not benefit to the whole group.
One might respond that the original researcher has a veto over each release of that data, but can that researcher always know how that research is going to be used? I don't think so.
On another point, at the moment PhD researchers funded by the ESRC are not bound to pass their qualitiative data to the archive. But in the pursuit of short term 'value for money', I wonder at what point PhD students will be bound to pass their data? Funding is extremely difficult; I can't imagine many candiates refusing to pass on their data and so not starting their PhD. Of course, I can imagine many saying they will, but then don't, but the point remains pertinent.