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Vol. 11 No. 2: April issue

The Political Life of Research Ethics Committees And What It Means for Ethnographic Research

April 3, 2023


This review discusses three pieces of work, that is, a conference panel and two books, that deal with the role of research ethics committees (RECs) in regulating biomedical research and medical anthropological research. We summarise the papers and conversations of a panel we convened on this topic during the 2020 European Association for Social Anthropologists (EASA) conference. We review two relatively recent books which discuss the role of RECs in biomedical research: Adam Hedgecoe’s (2020) Trust in the System: Research Ethics Committees and the Regulation of Biomedical Research, and Salla Sariola and Bob Simpson’s (2019) Research as Development: Biomedical Research, Ethics, and Collaboration in Sri Lanka. Finally, we consider how the review that RECs outside academic institutions perform is inadequate for ethnographic research, including that involving prospective participants who may lack capacity to consent. We conclude that undertaking the research ethics review internally (i.e., under university RECs) would be a first step forward in reclaiming ethnographic research ethical conversations.