When Ethical Procedures Can’t Do the Job: Ethical Dilemmas of Undertaking Critical Organisational Ethnographies in Social and Health Research

  • Jason BantjesEmail author
  • Leslie Swartz


In this chapter we describe our experience of undertaking critical organisational ethnography in schools and healthcare settings to illustrate how such work is a political endeavour and ethical minefield of potential conflicts and dilemmas. We demonstrate how our responsibility to protect research participants has been complicated by our responsibility to accurately describe what is observed. We discuss the challenges we have faced to balance ‘social good’ against the interests and rights of individuals inserted into and reproducing institutions. Critical ethnographies serve as powerful instruments to disrupt practices and expose injustices. As such, they have a special relevance to addressing fundamental questions about transformation of institutions in unequal and oppressive societies, but their deeply political nature brings ethical challenges which are not always easy to resolve.


Organizational Ethnography Protect Research Participants Ethnographic Ethnography Research harmHarm fieldField 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Financial support for this work was in part provided by a Career Development Award from the South African Medical Research Council, awarded to Jason Bantjes.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Stellenbosch UniversityStellenboschSouth Africa

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