Two arguments for 'covert methods' in social research

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    In some 'covert' participant-observation studies, social researchers defend their omission of informed consent on the basis of a need to protect subjects from apprehension, nervousness, or even criminal prosecution. In other instances, researchers contend that deception is rampant in society, and that their methods are no more immoral than the behaviour that ordinarily prevails. These defenses of covert methods fail to appreciate the range of risks that may be involved, and in the latter case, fail to show that these methods are in fact morally indistinguishable from the 'deception' that people typically engage in. Ultimately, these proposed defenses of covert methods succeed only in arousing greater concern about informed consent in social research, and the researcher's privilege in bypassing it.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)331-343
    Number of pages13
    JournalBritish Journal of Sociology
    Issue number2
    StatePublished - Jun 1999


    • Covert methods
    • Fieldwork
    • Informed consent
    • Participant-observation
    • Research ethics


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