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Revisiting the un/ethical: the complex ethics of elite studies research

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Current ethical codes inadequately speak to the complexities of researching elite groups. These groups contribute to broader inequalities and yet are protected from scrutiny by their own resources and, in the research context, ethical guidelines. For this reason, Gaztambide-Fernández (2015) called for those researching elite groups to adopt an ‘un/ethical’ position. This position circumvents conventional ethical codes to disrupt the power of research participants. In this paper, we put forward a considered assessment of this position. We reflect on and theorise our own experiences in the field from this ethical perspective, paying particular attention to our multifaceted insider/outsider statuses. We find that an un/ethical position offers short-term benefits but also does long-term damage to the elite studies scholar community. Thus, we counter-propose a way forward that dismantles power relations while avoiding the drawbacks of the un/ethical approach. Our proposal continues a necessary discussion around the ethics of elite studies research.




Lillie, K., & Ayling, P. (2020). Revisiting the un/ethical: the complex ethics of elite studies research. Qualitative Research.

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