chapter  6
24 Pages

Ethics of Case Study in Educational Research and Evaluation

ByHelen Simons

All human research has ethical dimensions, decision-oriented human research most of all. In case study, which features social life in all its particularity, ethical issues are inescapable. During the past twenty years, a period of growth in the popularity of this approach to the investigation of educational activity, these issues have assumed increasing importance, both for investigators and investigated. The reasons for this are not hard to find. The context of use has changed. Whereas the seminal publications of the modern period (Hargreaves 1967 and Lacey 1970) were sociological studies contributing to general knowledge of schooling, with no intended and certainly no direct consequences for their anonymized subjects, the main area of case study practice since that time has been contextualized by evaluative intent. At the present time the bulk of funded social research is sponsored by government agencies which are engaged in planned and purposeful intervention in the conduct of the social services, and which look to such research to provide a database for more effective intervention. Much of this research is called project, programme or policy evaluation — research that is linked to ongoing policy enactment. But even research that is not specifically linked to action is likely to be scrutinized for its relevance to and implications for policy. Our subjects know that, and are sensitive to any possibility of advantage or disadvantage that may ensue as a consequence of their collaboration. Although I shall be concerned in this chapter with the ethics of case study as this dimension has evolved in educational evaluation, it is as well to remember that the parallel renaissance of ethnographic research in sociology swims in the same political waters.