Power, culture and researcher identity: an ethos of international academic 'north-south' public health research

2019-11-22T18:02:34Z (GMT) by Aisling Walsh

Health research between lower and middle income countries and higher income countries can lead to important ethical questions at different stages in the research cycle. To date, research in the area focuses primarily on either:

  • micro research ethical issues: incorporating traditional definitions of research ethics such as research ethics reviews processes, informed consent and community engagement.
  • macro research ethical issues: though generally not designated as ‘ethical’ matters, these studies include broader issues of the politics of the research process, from agenda setting to capacity building, to authorship, and how research actors and institutions function and interact.

The overall study aim is to undertake a situated ethics analysis of international academic public health research between the global north and the global south, using Zambia as a case study, to develop an understanding of the different ethoses of north-south health research. A situated ethics analysis allows micro and macro research ethics issues to be debated in tandem, and recognises power and culture as being central to international health research. The study focus is on the lens of researchers - both north and south - identifying them as the most important stakeholders in defining, shaping and executing the research study. A situated ethics of health research conceptual framework is developed to analyse the findings.

Primary data were collected through in-depth interviews with: Zambian researchers (n=20), Zambian national stakeholders (n=8) and northern researchers who had been involved in public health research collaborations involving Zambia and the global north (n=25). An inductive iterative process of thematic analysis was conducted. Findings were grouped around micro and macro research ethics issues, and the ethics of researcher relationships. Power imbalances and cultural issues emerged as the central key issues. Two heuristic devices were used to analyse the findings according to the situated research ethics framework around power and culture: Bourdieu’s theory of Power and Practice (1977), and a model of cultural competence adapted from Papadopolous & Lees (2002).

This thesis has broadened the scope of ethical reflection to encourage the broader ethics of north-south health research. The overall study contribution is that through developing an understanding of the different ethoses of north-south health research, power imbalances may be identified and uncovered, which could ultimately lead to a shared community of partnership, or a shared ethos of partnership. Through transcending the dichotomy of micro and macro research ethics, with macro research ethics issues considered on a par with micro, this will enable an ethos of north-south health research to emerge.