"Fools Rush In": Ethico-legal Dilemmas of Ethnographic Research

Year: 1985

Author: Dempster, Neil

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper will draw upon experiences gained from an ethno- graphic study of the Basic Learnings in Primary Schools Program proposed by the Commonwealth Government in 1984, for implementation in the States during 1985.

In particular, the paper will address methodological issues asso- ciated with the value of ethnography in studies of the policy process. It will raise and discuss some of the central ethico-legal problems of ethnographic research- problems or access, owner- ship, involvement, confidentiality, bias, libel, slander, veracity and trust. These problems, it will be argued, require sensitive responses when those involved in carrying educational policy into action, have opened up their ideas, feelings, activities and procedures to the participant observer. The paper concludes by arguing that the search for truth need not be compromised by sensitivity to the ethico-legal problems bound up in ethnographic research. On the contrary, a richness of data that is denied the quantitative research, can be openly used by the ethnographer in reporting policy studies.