Skip to Main Content

EDUC.6922: Qualitative Research Methods for Practitioner Scholars

Subjectivity and Ethics

Human Subject Certification

In order to conduct research involving human subjects, researchers are required to obtain Human Subject Certification. Researchers must also obtain approval through the Institutional Review Board (IRB) unless the research falls under exempt categories. Use the link through the UML website if you would like your training results and certification linked to UML. 

As a UML student, you do not need to pay for training modules. Click on Register, then Register again. Select your organization affiliation as University of Massachusetts Lowell. Set up a profile as a student researcher. Complete the modules for Social-Behavioral-Educational research. Please be aware that CITI certification may take several hours to complete and you may want to plan to complete it in more than one sitting. 

This certification is necessary in order to conduct any research on human subjects. You will need to renew it every three years, but the renewal process is substantially less time-consuming than the initial certification. 

Principles of Ethical Research

IRBs use the principles set forth in the Belmont Report (1979) as a reference for review. The key principles are: 

- Respect for persons

- Beneficence

- Justice 

Tom Beauchamp and James Childress in Principles of Biomedical Ethics (1985) include a fourth principle, nonmaleficence. Often we think of research in terms of beneficence (the moral obligation to contribute to others' well-being), but ethicists and philosophers argue that nonmaleficence (avoiding harm) is a separate consideration. Professor Bob Veach explains why it is essential to consider balancing benefits and harms, which requires thinking about benefits and harms as independent factors in research ethics. 

If you cannot access the above video, you can watch it here

Ethics of Care

Qualitative research allows the researcher to listen carefully to the participants. Care ethics is about conscientious responsiveness to our participants. In the following excerpts from an interview with, Carol Gilligan defines the topic and discusses issues:

How would you define ethics of care?

As an ethic grounded in voice and relationships, in the importance of everyone having a voice, being listened to carefully (in their own right and on their own terms) and heard with respect. An ethics of care directs our attention to the need for responsiveness in relationships (paying attention, listening, responding) and to the costs of losing connection with oneself or with others. Its logic is inductive, contextual, psychological, rather than deductive or mathematical.


What are important issues for the ethics of care in the future?

To address the question of why the ethics of care is still embattled (especially in the U.S.) but also now in Europe), to consider the ethics of care in light of new evidence in the human sciences that as humans we are by nature empathic and responsive beings, hard-wired for cooperation. Rather than asking how do we gain the capacity to care, the questions become how do we come not to care; how do we lose the capacity for empathy and mutual understanding? It is also crucial to clarify that within a patriarchal framework, the ethics of care is a 'feminine' ethic, whereas within a democratic framework it is a human ethic, grounded in core democratic values: the importance of everyone having a voice and being listened to carefully and heard with respect. The premise of equal voice then allows conflicts to be addressed in relationships. Different voices then become integral to the vitality of a democratic society.


Nel Noddings first wrote about Care Ethics in her 1984 work Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education, which emphasized the significance of caring and relationship as fundamental goal of education. In 1997, she published Philosophy of Education, where she explains that caring is both a natural instinct and an ethical exercise: 

"We do not have to construct elaborate rationales to explain why human beings ought to treat one another as positively as our situation permits. Ethical life is not separate from and alien to the physical world. Because we human beings are in the world, not mere spectators watching from outside it, our social instincts and the reflective elaboration of them are also in the world. Pragmatists and care theorists agree on this. The ought – better, the 'I ought' – arises directly in lived experience. 'Oughtness,' one might say, is part of our 'isness.'….

In contrast 'ethical' caring does have to be summoned. The 'I ought' arises but encounters conflict: An inner voice grumbles, 'I ought but I don’t want to,' or 'Why should I respond?' or 'This guy deserves to suffer, so why should I help?' On these occasions we need not turn to a principle; more effectively we turn to our memories of caring and being cared for and a picture or ideal of ourselves as carers… Ethical caring’s great contribution is to guide action long enough for natural caring to be restored and for people once again to interact with mutual and spontaneous regard." (Noddings 1998: 187)

UMass Lowell Human Subjects IRB