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This paper situates discussion of the ethics of ethnographic research against the background of a theoretical and methodological debate about the relationship between ethics and method, and about the relationships between research methods and their objects. In particular, the paper investigates the implications of folding together the ethical and the empirical in research and argues that this requires the development of new ethico-ethnographic methods for the investigation of ethico-moral objects. The paper falls into three main parts. The first considers calls for what has come to be known as empirical ethics, that is, for a more empirically informed bioethics, by way of an exploration of the integration of ethnographic methods in bioethics, and concludes that approaches which see the ethical and the empirical as 'complementary' do not do justice to the methodological implications of enfolding the ethical and the ethnographic. The second part juxtaposes this with calls for the integration of ethics in ethnography and, similarly, argues that the enfolding of the ethical and the empirical in ethnography calls for the development of new methods. The paper goes on to problematise the 'negotiational' approaches to informed consent preferred by many ethnographers, arguing that the concept of negotiation, rather than offering a solution to the problem of consent, is itself ethically complex and in need of analysis. The paper argues that, in the context of ethnographic research, the possibility of negotiational forms of consent depends upon engagement between researchers and researched, with unavoidably 'ethical' concepts such as 'respect', 'recognition', 'dignity', 'justice' and so on, and that this poses methodological challenges to ethnography. The paper's third section explores the implications of these arguments for research practice, using The Genethics Club as an example.

Original publication




Journal article


Social science & medicine (1982)

Publication Date





2248 - 2259


Department of Public Health, The Ethox Centre, Gibson Building/Block 21, Radcliffe Infirmary Woodstock Road, Oxford OX2 6HE, UK.


Humans, Interprofessional Relations, Genetics, Anthropology, Cultural, Informed Consent, Ethics, Medical, Ethics, Research, United Kingdom