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Gorup, M. (2019). Ethics of Observational Research. In R. Iphofen (Ed.), Handbook of Research Ethics and Scientific Integrity. Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-76040-7_20-1


This chapter addresses issues of ethics and integrity in observational research, with a specific focus on qualitative shadowing. Qualitative shadowing is a form of nonparticipant observation which includes following selected individuals and a detailed recording of their behavior. Shadowing thus implies a level of intrusiveness which results from the close proximity between shadowers and shadowees. As such, it enables access to the otherwise invisible parts of the studied settings, resulting in intimate insights into the shadowees’ lives. At the same time, shadowing is highly unpredictable as shadowers’ access and exposure depend on shadowees. The invasive, relational, intimate, and emergent nature of shadowing gives rise to numerous ethical and integrity dilemmas: the potential discrepancy between acquiring a formal ethical approval and engaging in ethical practice once in the field; the challenge of gaining a truly voluntary and informed consent; the difficulty of maintaining privacy, confidentiality, and anonymity; risks to participant and researcher well-being; the complexity of managing relations and researcher roles in the field – and the effects thereof on the research process; the danger of causing feelings of betrayal among research participants; and the contradictions arising from shadowing research when it is employed as a tool for change or critique. While the present chapter cannot claim to provide a set of fixed guidelines for an ethical and rigorous conduct of shadowing, its aim is to sensitize shadowers to potential challenges and possible ways of addressing them by drawing on the rich experience of shadowing researchers across a variety of academic disciplines.