A few weeks ago I agreed to give a talk to the philosophy students' club here at American. When put on the spot for topics, I generally follow Laura Nader's guidelines in Up the Anthropologist and follow my indignation. In this case, I was in the middle of filling out an IRB (Institutional Review Board) application, always an infuriating and insulting exercise. So I sent them the following blurb:
"(Protestant) Ethics in Research"
Institutionalized human subject protections, designed around a biomedical model and purportedly meant to protect individuals from direct or indirect harm by the researcher, primarily exist to protect institutions. The practices required by institutional review boards (and the assumptions about structure and agency that underlie them) can prevent researchers from both investigating and recognizing greater collective and structural injustices, and as such at times are mutually exclusive with protecting the "human subjects" at the core of IRB discourse. Drawing on her work with the Honduran resistance movement and the California Nurses Association, Adrienne Pine will argue that in order to act ethically, we must contest—and in some cases reject—the institutionalization of a capitalist ethic as Ethics, and the funding that comes with it.
But as I find myself increasingly exposed to explosive information about deliberate attempts among Washington liberals to coopt and destroy the Honduran resistance, and thus strengthen the oligarchy and military and paramilitary forces behind the current wave of assassinations, I find my chosen topic, written in a moment of bureaucratic annoyance, bloody relevant. I never imagined having conversations like (paraphrased):
friend: We have to expose them now, before they can succeed.
me: Agreed, but how? Fulano (in Honduras) says it's an extremely delicate situation, and we could be putting people in danger.
friend: But how would we be putting people in danger? It's more dangerous to allow this to go forward.
me: I know, I know. I'm just sayin', that's what he said. I mean, what if we go forward with the names, and then someone gets killed. Even if they were golpistas. I know it wouldn't be our fault, but they'd put it on us. They'd put it on the resistance. They'd kill their own, just to say the resistance did it.
friend: True, but it's already out there.
me: So what if we don't give any names, so whatever happens, we won't be pegged for anyone getting offed.
friend: That makes sense. We don't need to say who's doing it, as long as the message gets out there.
me: Of course, it's not really our decision to make, if it leaks...