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Informed Consent: Documenting the Intersection of Bureaucratic Regulation and Ethnographic Practice

Jennifer Shannon
Political and Legal Anthropology Review
Vol. 30, No. 2 (November 2007), pp. 229-248
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/24497376
Page Count: 20
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Informed Consent: Documenting the Intersection of Bureaucratic Regulation and Ethnographic Practice
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Abstract

Standardized institutional review board (IRB) procedures suggest that informed consent can be enacted in the same way everywhere—across disciplines and across different cultural communities. With attention to documents as artifacts and embedding ethics, I consider consent documents to be located at a productive site for anthropological analysis: the intersection of bureaucratic and ethnographic practice. Through fieldwork that engaged both American Indians in Chicago and museum professionals in Washington, D.C., I was able to view these procedures in a variety of contexts. Unlike the joking references to IRB scripts when interviewing museum professionals, American Indians were wary of such procedures. The particular meaning attached to signing documents varied in these communities and in one case prompted people to challenge and change the consent protocol that I would use in my fieldwork practice. This comparative approach shows how different institutions are represented by and transact through documents in ways that significantly impact the nature of fieldwork relations.

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