Introduction: The Politics of Anonymity and Confidentiality

  • Catriona Ida MacleodEmail author
  • Phindezwa Mnyaka


Ethics committees standardly require that the researchers address questions concerning anonymity and confidentiality. The conventional practice is to ensure that participants’ names and identifying details are expunged from public records of the research and that high levels of confidentiality of data are maintained in the research process. In this introduction, we outline how authors of chapters in this section ask questions concerning these imperatives, including circumstances where participants actively want their identity revealed and their voice heard or when anonymising might not be possible or may further disadvantage marginalised populations. We explore the argument made by authors that the automatic anonymising of data and the imposition of confidentiality can constrain ethical conduct.


  1. Giordano, J., O’Reilly, M., Taylor, H., & Dogra, N. (2007). Confidentiality and autonomy: The challenge(s) of offering research participants a choice of disclosing their identity. Qualitative Health Research, 17(2), 264–275. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Haggerty, K. D. (2004). Ethics creep: Governing social science research in the name of ethics ethics creep: Governing social science research in the name of ethics. Qualitative Sociology, 27(4), 391–414. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. van den Hoonaard, W. C. (2003). Is anonymity an artifact in ethnographic research? Journal of Academic Ethics, 1(2), 141–151. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Le Roux, C. (2015). Oral history research ethics: Should anonymity and confidentially issues be dealt with on their own merit? Africa Education Review, 12(4), 552–566. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Lelkes, Y., Krosnick, J. A., Marx, D. M., Judd, C. M., & Park, B. (2012). Complete anonymity compromises the accuracy of self-reports. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48(6), 1291–1299. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Lincoln, Y. S., & Guba, E. G. (1985). Naturalistic inquiry. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  7. Novak, A. (2014). Anonymity, confidentiality, privacy, and identity: The ties that bind and break in communication research. Review of Communication, 14(1), 36–48. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Reid, C., & Brief, E. (2009). Confronting condescending ethics: How community-based research challenges traditional approaches to consent, confidentiality, and capacity. Journal of Academic Ethics, 7(1), 75–85. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Saunders, B., Kitzinger, J., & Kitzinger, C. (2014). Anonymising interview data: Challenges and compromise in practice. Qualitative Research, 15(5), 616–632. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Sikweyiya, Y., & Jewkes, R. (2011). Perceptions about safety and risks in gender-based violence research: Implications for the ethics review process. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 13(9), 1091–1102. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Stein, A. (2010). Sex, truths, and audiotape: Anonymity and the ethics of exposure in public ethnography. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 39(5), 554–568. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Taylor, R. (2015). Beyond anonymity: Temporality and the production of knowledge in a qualitative longitudinal study. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, (3, 3), 281–292. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Tilley, L., & Woodthorpe, K. (2011). Is it the end for anonymity as we know it? A critical examination of the ethical principle of anonymity in the context of 21st century demands on the qualitative researcher. Qualitative Research, 11(2), 197–212. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Tolich, M. (2004). Internal confidentiality: When confidentiality assurances fail relational informants. Qualitative Sociology, 27(1), 101–106. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Walford, G. (2005). Research ethical guidelines and anonymity. International Journal of Research & Method in Education, 28(1), 83–93. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Wiles, R., Crow, G., Heath, S., & Charles, V. (2008). The management of confidentiality and anonymity in social research. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 11(5), 417–428. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Wright, D., & Saucier, R. (2012). Madness in the archives: Anonymity, ethics, and mental health history research. Journal of the Canadian Historical Association/Revue de la Société historique du Canada, 23(2), 65–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Critical Studies in Sexualities and Reproduction, Department of PsychologyRhodes UniversityGrahamstownSouth Africa
  2. 2.Department of HistoryUniversity of the Western CapeBellvilleSouth Africa

Personalised recommendations