What is wrong with ethics review, the impact on teaching anthropology, and how to fix it

results of an empirical study

L. L. Wynn*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Citations (Scopus)


There is no empirical evidence that ethics review protects anthropologists' research participants, but there is ample evidence that it is stifling research agendas and reshaping how we teach anthropological research methods, entrenching a positivist, clinical model of what constitutes research. This paper examines the impact of ethics review on student research in Australia, based on interviews conducted at 14 Australian universities. The data clearly show that the risks posed by student research are minor, and vastly overestimated by ethics committees. To avoid problems with ethics committees, we shepherd students into undertaking low-risk, and consequently low-impact, research. Many departments are abandoning research-led teaching altogether because of the obstacle of ethics review. One solution would be to locate ethics discussions in disciplines and departments, radically restructuring the encounter to reconceptualise it as collegial debate about ethics dilemmas rather than 'ethics review'.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)269-285
Number of pages17
JournalThe Australian Journal of Anthropology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017


  • Audit culture
  • Bureaucracy
  • Ethics committees
  • Students
  • Teaching

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