“On the Way to Calvary, I Lost My Way”: Navigating Ethical Quagmires in Community Psychology at the Margins

  • Haile MatutuEmail author
Part of the Community Psychology book series (COMPSY)


Community Psychology research that seeks to disrupt oppressive systems is fraught with ethical complexities, more so when it involves people with non-normative sexual/gender identities in contexts such as South Africa. The field demands researchers to negotiate the quagmires resulting from the inadequacy of ‘principlesim’ (Onuoha C, Bioethics Across Borders: An African Perspective. Uppsala University, Uppsala, 2007) and the ‘Regulatory Ethics’ favoured by institutional Research Ethics Committees to guide research (von Unger, H. Qualitative Inquiry, 22(2), 87–98, 2016). Similarly, research with marginalised populations that employs liberatory methodological approaches demands the creation of space for queer visibilities, and the privileging of local epistemes and subjectivities (Turker, A. Queer Visibilities: Space, identity and interaction in Cape Town. Chichester, West Sussex: John Willey & Sons, 2009). Given that the regulatory approach to ethics is problematised in Community Psychology scholarship for its inadequacy to respond to differential power dynamics; the history of research institutions vis-a-vis the communities we do research with, often experienced as epistemic violence; and the discordant conceptualisations of consent, beneficence, and harm – this chapter considers the position of ethics in research with marginalized populations as ongoing, critical, and dialogical. Reflecting on a study with non-gay identifying men who have sex with men, I embrace the decolonial feminist research agenda, seeing it as an opportunity to reconsider ethics in research and attend to the unjust erasure of marginalised sexual/gender subjectivities. The chapter frames the issue of ethics not from a perspective of a 'regulatory enterprise', but rather as intrinsically aligned to reflexivity; working against the affinity between research and epistemic violence. I discuss the means I adopted to navigate across epistemic (dis)articulations resulting from incompatible research frameworks and methods. To counter potential epistemic violence, I argue for a reflexive ethics anchored in decolonial feminist perspectives, and a methodological promiscuity that reconsiders ethics in practice.


Principlist ethics Non-gay identifying men Reflexivity Epistemic violence Marginal subjectivity Decolonial feminist ethics 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Cape TownRondeboschSouth Africa

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