Benefit or harm?: The ethics ofdefining, doing and disseminating rural education research

Year: 2018

Author: Downes, Natalie, Fuqua, Melyssa, Guenther, John, Marsh, Jillian, Philip, Roberts, Jo-Anne, Reid

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In this paper we highlight some ethical issues for researchers to consider when working with rural people and communities. There is a growing body of work in education research that highlights how the way we view, understand, and consider rurality impacts on the research we conduct, its outcomes, and the rural people and communities we work with (see for example Reid et al., 2010; Roberts & Green, 2013; White & Corbett, 2014). Drawing on this perspective we discuss how the way researchers consider rurality in their research is an ethical matter. We argue that this can either benefit, or harm, the rural people and communities researchers work with.  
We explore this issue in relation to the way we conduct, use, interpret and disseminate rural education research. This includes the importance of determining what rural research is, working with Indigenous people in rural communities, considering the methodology of the research project, interpreting and using data from research projects, the implications of disseminating rural education research. We also consider socio-political dimensions of rural education research from an ethical perspective.  Researcher safety, politics, professionalism, bureaucracy, opportunistic research, and funding for rural education research are also important considerations when thinking about the benefit and harm of education research. To illustrate these issues, we draw on a number of examples from the authors’ works and experience as researchers in rural education, as well as the issue of perceived rural disadvantage (see for example Doecke, 1987). That is, how education research can contribute to, and reinforce, perceived rural education disadvantage depending on the way it is conducted, used, interpreted and disseminated.
We argue that without considering rurality, we continue to contribute to the problem of rural education disadvantage and deficit approaches to rural education. This is an approach that can be seen to create more harm than benefit for rural communities. This paper will assist those undertaking rural education research and contribute to our understanding of how rurality influences the work of education researchers.