Reconsidering the Value of Covert Research: The Role of Ambiguous Consent in Participant Observation

Thomas Roulet, Michael J Gill, Sebastian Stenger, David James Gill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

In this article, we provide a nuanced perspective on the benefits and costs of covert research. In particular, we illustrate the value of such an approach by focusing on covert participant observation. We posit that all observational studies sit along a continuum of consent, with few research projects being either fully overt or fully covert due to practical constraints and the ambiguous nature of consent itself. With reference to illustrative examples, we demonstrate that the study of deviant behaviors, secretive organizations and socially important topics is often only possible through substantially covert participant observation. To support further consideration of this method, we discuss different ethical perspectives and explore techniques to address the practical challenges of covert participant observation, including; gaining access, collecting data surreptitiously, reducing harm to participants, leaving the site of study and addressing ethical issues.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)487-517
Number of pages31
JournalOrganizational Research Methods
Volume20
Issue number3
Early online date23 Mar 2017
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2017

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