Everyday Ethics: Student writing as a not-so-benign area of research

The notion of an ‘ethics creep’ (Haggerty 2004) refers to the ways in which official ethical approval protocols do not merely reflect an appreciation and acknowledgement of research participants’ rights (and the potential harms of research in general), but also become disciplining technologies that are fostered by an ever-increasing desire to follow rules and avoid certain risks. The danger, Haggerty (2004) suggests, is that ethical approval becomes divorced from ethical practice. I draw from my own research that has been conducted via the research aim that is: to explore the infiltrating nature of risk in Higher Education by examining undergraduate student approaches to academic writing. At first glance, student writing is a topic that seems relatively benign, provoking limited and easily identifiable ethical issues. However, this paper explores how even the research endeavours that seem benign in nature and ethically straightforward can conjure unanticipated ethical issues along the way. I therefore offer this paper as a case in point to demonstrate how even the seemingly benign research topics are peppered with unanticipated ethical dilemmas that are unlikely to become visible until the researcher is actively researching. Drawing from my own experiences as a researcher, I reflect upon the differences between, on the one hand, securing ethical approval before researching, and the predicted and predictable ethical issues that were raised during the ethical approval processes, and on the other, I recount the unpredicted and unpredictable ethical issues that were experienced during the actual research process. In summation, I propose that ethical consideration must be seen as an ongoing process to be alert to rather than a perfunctory stamp of approval to receive clearance from, and that ethics is everyday, commonplace and yet unforeseeable, for even the most seemingly benign areas of study.