‘The Path is Made by Walking on it’

Ethical complexities in supervising international doctoral researchers using narrative approaches

Authored by: Sheila Trahar

The Routledge International Handbook on Narrative and Life History

Print publication date:  October  2016
Online publication date:  October  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138784291
eBook ISBN: 9781315768199
Adobe ISBN: 9781317665717


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How ethical is it to be writing a chapter about – rather than with – doctoral researchers? In articulating the ethical complexities inherent in supervising the work of doctoral researchers using narrative approaches, I am doing so from my perspective as a supervisor. Is that ethical? I write about experiences gained through my work with many doctoral researchers, but these experiences do not belong to me; they transpired because of our relationship. Had I not worked with these people, I would not be able to write the chapter. Therein lies a puzzle that is, in my view, ever present in the ‘family’ of narrative methodological approaches, and indeed, in the supervision process itself – that of ‘ownership’ of the narratives produced through relationships. Sikes (2012, p. 125), writing about ‘stories drawing on experiences that I have had … as a supervisor of students’ research’ was beset by similar tensions, posing the question, ‘Should I, therefore, seek ethical clearance from the committee at my university before I write and tell them?’ Let me state at the outset that I have not sought ethical clearance from my university before writing this chapter. I consider that the accounts that I share do not ‘belong’ to the university that employs me. If they ‘belong’ anywhere, they belong to the researchers and to me as they developed out of our relationship and from accounts of their relationship with their research and their research participants.

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