Paternalism gone ridiculous? Encounters with risk-averse ethics committees in doing participatory research with children with and without disabilities

Dr Lisa Stafford 

Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, QLD


Ethics is a critical frame guiding researchers to ensure participants are researched appropriately and respectfully. Researchers advocating for participant-led or co research with marginalised groups know too well the significance of ethical considerations to ensure research is in the best interest of participants not researchers. My research approach is no different. For over the past decade, I have been researching children’s participation and disabled childhood geographies. My approach is underpinned by core ethical values and participatory-child-and-ability-friendly principles and processes. However, as my research is often at the intersection of children and disability, I address two specific groups within the NHMRC chapter 4 – children and cognitive impairment. Being at this intersection, I constantly undergo committee level review which is important. However, in more recent times I have noted growing interrogation – where questions are less about the ethics of the approach and more about risk aversion. This presentation presents two cases of recent committee level review to raise discussion on the growing occurrence of paternalism underpinned by Ableism and Adultism thinking, and the need to advocate for change so specific groups are not marginalised in these processes or even excluded from research because of the current culture of ethics committees.

Dr Lisa Stafford, is an Lecturer in School of PHSW and a 2019 ARC DECRA Fellow. Her research is in inclusive communities, disabled childhood geographies, and participatory process to hear the most maginalised ‘voices’ in community and research practices

Dynamic, fraught and messy: The unresolvable ethical challenges of scholar-activism

Ms Laura Wynne1, Ms Pratichi Chatterjee2, Mr Alistair Sisson2, Dr Jenna Condie3

1University Of Tasmania, Hobart

2University of Sydney, Sydney

3Western Sydney University 


This paper traces our scholar-activist work with a resident action group that arose in response to the redevelopment of a public housing estate in Sydney, Australia. Over the two-year period of our involvement, the groups’ capacities to contest the redevelopment were gradually destabilised and neutralised by pressure from state actors and through intra-group tensions. In other words, the activism imploded and we were imbricated in that process.

In this presentation, we describe some of the ethical challenges that arise while through involvement in the struggles of others, in our various positions as scholars, as neighbours and as activists. We consider the difficulties of treading (too) carefully, and describe the balancing act we each played in efforts to not-intervene-too-much while also acting ethically and responsibly. We discuss the ethical complexities of engaging with an over-researched community, and our efforts to bring attention to the community’s plight while trying to avoid exacerbating their ‘engagement fatigue’. We draw out the ethical challenges that cannot be simply resolved through university risk management projects, illuminating ethical research and engagement as a dynamic, fraught and messy process. We argue for an approach that ’stays with the trouble’ (following Haraway), rather than treating ethical issues as resolvable.

Making social media in public housing activism: Methodological and ethical considerations

Dr Jenna Condie1, Ms Astrid  Zuman1

1Western Sydney University, Penrith, Australia


Social media activism is so much more than a Facebook Page, a Twitter feed, or an Instagram hashtag. Yet social media research methods often start and end at this ‘surface level’ where researchers extract digital data generated by activist groups and networks for scholarly purposes. In practice, bringing social media content into being, and maintaining online activist spaces is time consuming, emotionally intense, socially relational and affected by existing societal power structures. This paper outlines a methodological and ethical framework for embracing the ‘necessary complexity’ (Probyn, 2016) of making social media in the contexts of public housing activism.

The research draws from the lead author’s scholar-activist work (2016 -) with three resident action groups/projects, established in response to a public housing estate redevelopment in Waterloo, Sydney. The methodological approach is digitally ethnographic in assembling memories, digital data, and accounts from others involved, to tell stories about social media activism that matter. An ‘ethics of care’ is practised through ongoing reflexive engagements with the implications of ‘being there’ and influencing what becomes in social media and beyond. When inside the action, the challenges of making social media are more knowable, as are the possibilities of social media for realising housing justice.


Jenna Condie is a Lecturer in Digital Research and Online Social Analysis at Western Sydney University. With psychology as a base, she researches cyber-urban living and what people and places are becoming with new technologies. At Western, Jenna co-leads Travel in the Digital Age (TinDA), an interdisciplinary group of researchers focused on travel, transport, technology, mobile lives and equitable mobilities. In 2018, Jenna co-edited ‘Doing Research In and On the Digital: Research Methods Across Fields of Inquiry’ (Routledge) and has published on new materialist and scholar-activist approaches to researching with responsibility.

‘Socially just’ publishing by, and for, geographers: what can we do?

Prof. Simon Batterbury1

1University of Melbourne/Lancaster University


Ethical questions pervade the conduct of contemporary geographical research, but are rarely applied to the publication stage. Major journals are published by for-profit corporations like Elsevier, Wiley, Taylor-Francis and Springer, charging libraries and [increasingly] authors. Plan S, a European initiative, may provoke the demise of many ‘paywalled’ journals and a shift to OA author-pays models in 2020. This improves public access to articles but commercial dominance will be untouched. I present data on the political economy and ethics of publishing, and make three appeals for change. 1) we need to be more aware of ethical knowledge production in the discipline – changing the way we publish 2) academics and librarians can take back some control from the for-profit sector through community-run, no-author-fee journals  using their existing skills, tools and networks 3) for this to happen, hiring, promotion and workloads in the discipline need to fully acknowledge and reward ‘socially just’ publishing, not just ‘excellence’. This starts ‘at the top’ in our institutions. I reference my participation in various alternative publishing networks like, editing the OA ‘Journal of Political Ecology’ [free, indexed, and academic-led];   and a new Australian academic network, ‘Public or Perish’ inaugurated in Melbourne.


Professor, Lancaster University (Chair of Political Ecology 2017-2019) and A/Prof Environmental Studies, University of Melbourne (2004-2016, 2019>). Editor of Journal of Political Ecology since 2003.

#ethics: Digital spaces and ethical challenges

Dr Rachel Sharples1

1Western Sydney University, Penrith, Australia


Digital methodologies constitute a growing body of data for researchers. Digital legacies present unique opportunities to examine threads around time (continuity, immediacy), quantum (large sample sizes) and voice (broadening accessibility and reach). Increasingly, social media is where some of our key public discourses are occurring. However, this also brings distinct ethical challenges. The neoliberal university tends to have a tick box approach to ethics. These treat ethics in absolute terms, with no room for the nuances that shape engaged research or the emerging peculiarities of online spaces. Using the social media of asylum seekers in Australia’s detention centres as a case study, this paper traces some of these ethical challenges: How does informed consent work when the data sample includes thousands of posts and profiles. Is anonymity really an option, can it be guaranteed, are users asking for it? Can social media serve a journalistic purpose, reporting on circumstances that are otherwise inaccessible, and should it therefore be treated as public commentary? How do we navigate the public/private dichotomy in online spaces? As researchers working in digital spaces, these ethical challenges must be grappled with. That same responsibility lies with our ethics committees and the frameworks under which they operate.


Rachel Sharples is a researcher in the Challenging Racism Project, School of Social Sciences and Psychology at Western Sydney University. She gained her PhD from RMIT University in 2012. Rachel manages a number of research projects under the Challenging Racism Project banner, including on racism and anti-racism, racism on digital platforms, and Islamophobia. She also researches in the areas of refugees and migrant communities, ethnic and cultural relations, and spaces of resistance and solidarity.

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