Back to the Armchair? Research ethics during the COVID-19 pandemic

The historical development of ethnography is often described figuratively as a three-stage process from Armchair to Veranda to Tent. The move from armchair to veranda to tent involved a shift, or the ethical turn, in the relationship between ethnographers and their research subjects from a colonial gaze, to the stress put on the subjectivity and agency of the people who are researched. The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed most of ethnographers back to the armchair, or to be more precise to their computer chairs, as social life and social research have moved online. This return to the armchair should not lead to the return to (un)ethical practises of early ethnography. How can we conduct our online research ethically? How do we choose a proper platform for our interviews? How can we accommodate the choice of our respondents while following advice from our Universities’ IT departments? How do we manage security and privacy related risks? And more importantly: how do we construct our field and build rapport with our research participants? What are power relations and agency related issues involved?


This roundtable brings together researchers with experience in both in-person and digital ethnography and specialists in ethics and data management in search for answers to these questions and broader reflections on ethics in the age of online social research.




Jennifer Blaikie is the Research Ethics Manager for the University’s Social Sciences & Humanities Interdivisional Research Ethics Committee (SSH IDREC) and is part of the Research Ethics and Integrity team within the University’s central Research Services. She works closely with the SSH IDREC and the Central University Research Ethics Committee (CUREC) to review and develop policy and guidance around the ethics of research involving human participants and personal data.


Dr William Kelly is an Anthropologist of Japan and Research Affiliate at the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography (SAME), University of Oxford. Main research

interests are concerned with the production and consumption of popular culture, leisure and entertainment practices in Japan, including those which are digitally mediated (karaoke-singing, video games and virtual worlds). He is co-founder and co-convenor of the Oxford Digital Ethnography Group (OxDEG), creator and convenor of the Digital Methods module for research students in Anthropology and occasional convenor of the Digital Ethnography option at the Oxford Internet Institute. He is a regular participant in workshops, forums and roundtable discussions related to digital research methods and currently holds a Teaching Development and Enhancement Project (TDEP) Award for development of digital methods training in the Social Sciences Division.


Dr Agnieszka Kościańska is Leverhulme Visiting Professor at the Oxford School of Global and Area Studies and Associate Professor in the Department of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology, University of Warsaw. She is an ethnographer with more than 20 years of experience and her research was funded thanks to grants from institutions such as the European Commission (Marie Sklodowska-Curie fellowships, HERA) and the National Science Centre, Poland. She is the author and (co)editor of several volumes on gender, sexuality, religion and various forms of discrimination in Central Europe, including the monographs To See a Moose: The History of Polish Sex Education (forthcoming with Berghahn Books 2021, Polish version 2017, Wydawnictwo Czarne) and Gender, Pleasure, and Violence: The Construction of Expert Knowledge of Sexuality in Poland (Indiana University Press 2021, Polish version 2014, University of Warsaw Press).


Dr Nicolette Makovicky is Departmental Lecturer in Russian and East European Studies. She researches the survival and adaptation of historically embedded modes of economic activity in Central Europe, particularly artisanal crafts and transhumant pastoralism. She has published on themes including labour, ethics, informal economy, entrepreneurialism in Slovakia and Poland. Dr Makovicky also studies the history of textile crafts in Eastern Europe, focusing particularly on the ideological appropriation of crafts into projects of Communist state-building. She is the editor of the books Neoliberalism, Personhood, Postsocialism: Enterprising Selves in Changing Economies (Ashgate, 2014), and co-editor of Economies of Favour after Socialism (University of Oxford Press, 2016) and Slogans: Subjection, Subversion and the Politics of Neoliberalism (Routledge 2018). Dr Makovicky has benefitted from funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Danish

Research Agency, the Nuffield Foundation, The John Fell Fund, and the Pasold Research Fund.


Rowan Wilson has worked for the University of Oxford for almost twenty years in a variety of projects. These have included the OSS Watch free and open source advisory service that operated from 2003-2013, and the OpenSpires project to make educational podcasts available under a Creative Commons licence. These days Rowan manages a team within IT Services that helps researchers plan use of technology and manage their data.

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