Ethics or Morals: Challenging foundational university ethics process to combat harmful practices in cross-cultural research projects.

Year: 2019

Author: Weuffen, Sara

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Research projects conducted under the auspice of a university are required to receive ethical approval to ensure the project is conducted to the highest standard. Traditionally, cross-cultural research projects conducted by non-Indigenous researchers, have been guided under the key principle of doing no harm. Yet, Eurocentric research practices exist where non-Indigenous researchers conducting research on, or under the guise of with, Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders have, and continue, to cause physical, emotional, relational, and cultural harm and trauma. A Clandinin (2010) argues, most cross-cultural research does not adequately address the complexities of communicating, or contextualising understanding, across cultures. Critical examination of contemporary research protocols in Australian university practices expose the perpetuation of racial discourses positing European as superior, and Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander as other. This is evidenced in ethics process that 1) label Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participants as vulnerable, 2) situate intellectual property rights within universities, and 3) encapsulate Eurocentric cultural power/knowledge relations.

In this presentation, I offer a frank expose about how my ethical and moral positioning as a non-Indigenous PhD student was in constant conflict with the privilege of whiteness. Rather than denying my whiteness, I confronted and acknowledged it to push back against dominant hegemonic ethical processes that circulated throughout my cross-cultural research project. This was not a smooth process. Attempts to irrupt power relations firmly embedded within university processes resulted in extensive consultation and justification for more culturally-appropriate ways of conducting non-Indigenous led cross-cultural research projects. By presenting my journey, I offer a troubling of white authority that exposes the continuous harm legitimised by current university ethics process, but at the same time, envision the possibility of more participatory, sensitive and responsive relationships and socially just ethical process in Australian cross-cultural research.