UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Resisting commensurability : against informed consent as an anthropological virtue Bell, Kirsten


In this article, I examine anthropology’s embrace of the informed consent doctrine at the end of the 1990s. Although acknowledging its utility in resolving the tensions between disciplinary ideals of openness in field research and the diverse array of contexts in which anthropologists now work, I argue that it has not been in our best interest to co-opt the concept. Bringing together the prior critiques of the informed consent doctrine’s application to ethnography, I criticize the tendency of some ethnographers to characterize ethnographic practice as “insuperably flawed,” pointing instead to the problems with the doctrine itself. I tease out underlying assumptions about the nature of research (and researchers and research subjects) that it presumes, and I conclude by suggesting the need for anthropology take a principled stance against the informed consent doctrine.

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