Gender and Ethics in the Connected Communities programme


I have been inspired to write a blog on some of my recent thinking around gender in the CC Programme. This has been stimulated by a brilliant workshop on Gender & Ethics I attended yesterday. It was hosted by the Gender Interest Group at Bristol University and funded by the Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS). I have been thinking about some of the gendered suppositions which seem to embed themselves within discourses of collaborative research and co-production. In particular, this has emerged when talking to people about the skills, experience and qualities which make people adept at collaborative research, in many cases this has been with reference to the recruitment of researchers and ECRs for CC projects. For example; ‘soft skills’ (as they have been described to me) such as relationship building, emotional awareness, active listening, being respectful, a willingness to learn from others and be self-reflexive in situations in which their own power and privilege may isolate others, have all been identified as helpful and valuable qualities for researchers doing co-production. These are attributes we associate with more feminine cultural traits, which is obviously not to suggest that men don’t make fantastic collaborative researchers and possess these skills in abundance, nor that women are inherently good at collaborative research. There are many avenues to go down with this idea but here I would like to explore the notion that feminist approaches to social science and humanities research, and in particular ethics, may help us identify efficacious ways to approach co-production.

The Gender and Ethics seminar raised some really helpful starting points for these ideas. Genevieve Liveley’s work on the ethics of literary piracy, miss-reading and the re-appropriation of language raised questions about what concepts and theories we can use from previous work to help strengthen a feminist ethics for research. She suggested that the Robin Hood ethics of re-reading, for example, Aristotle’s approach to ethics, and taking from this some of the approaches which value emotion that are useful for feminist readings of ethics, but leaving some of the other ideas, can be a valuable way to build new theoretical approaches. However, she suggests that plundering from the past and ‘doing violence’ to the text in this way is an ethical issue and should be recognised and discussed as such. Lively and Phillips also described haw traditional notions of ethics and moral value have centred on masculine cultural traits such as logic, independence, rational approaches and being self-identical, whereas, feminist approaches to ethics emphasise different traits such as; emotion, care for others, relationships with others, co-dependence, community, the role of the body and process. Indeed, feminist readings of ethics speak strongly to many of the issues we talk about in Connected Communities and to the questions which get raised in CC projects relating to co-production.

Connected Communities projects are already addressing different approaches to ethics which, it is suggested, are more suited to collaborative research. The work by Sarah Banks et al., (2013) on Everyday Ethics in Community-based Participatory Research (CBPR) discusses this and suggests that current institutional ethical codes and guidelines are not well-suited to CBPR as they do not account for character and relationship based approaches to ethics. Indeed, the evidence produced by CC projects (and other collaborative based research) demonstrates that co-produced research cries out for a more compassionate, responsive, embodied and reflexive type of ethics. As well as Bank’s work, I hope to explore how a feminist approach to ethics could provide a more suitable and progressive ethical perspective for collaborative research. But, I wonder what we can learn from a re-reading of more traditional notions of ethics, perhaps through a feminist or CBPR lens. Is there anything we can pilfer from the codes and guidelines of ethics reviews without re-inscribing past prejudice? And is this an ethical act?