Toggle Main Menu Toggle Search

Open Access padlockePrints

Commentary 1: The Role of Ethical Reflexivity in Conducting Ethically Challenging Qualitative Research

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Simon WoodsORCiD



This is the authors' accepted manuscript of an article that has been published in its final definitive form by Sage, 2019.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


This paper is a commentary on Herzog et al.’s vignette drawn from their experience of conducting ethically challenging qualitative research. They describe an encounter with a family in which an older child has acted as a sibling donor to a sick younger sibling. It is evident that the process has taken its toll on the well-being of the older child and has created tensions within the family. What then are the ethical boundaries and responsibilities of researchers who enter the private domain of the family? This commentary responds with a model of “ethical reflexivity” which shows how a reflexive researcher can incorporate moral reflection at the different stages of the research process. Reflexivity works differently at different points, upstream it allows for anticipation and planning, incorporating ethical strategies into the methodology. Midstream reflexivity allows for evaluation, reflection and strategic response as the research unfolds and downstream it allows for a critical evaluation of how the research played out. Although it is a vital resource for any society to allow a wide degree of freedom for social scientists to research the social life, this freedom also brings responsibilities. Participation in research both creates and reveals the vulnerabilities of participants and since the researcher is entangled in these complexities they must also be prepared to respond and act. At times it may be necessary to step out of the role of researcher in order to offer support or take more decisive action especially when the well-being of vulnerable participants is at stake.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Woods S

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics

Year: 2019

Volume: 14

Issue: 5

Pages: 462-465

Print publication date: 01/12/2019

Online publication date: 28/11/2019

Acceptance date: 01/10/2018

Date deposited: 29/11/2019

ISSN (print): 1556-2646

ISSN (electronic): 1556-2654

Publisher: Sage


DOI: 10.1177/1556264619857856a


Altmetrics provided by Altmetric