This essay will attempt to differentiate between administrative research which is used primarily for market, electoral or management research purposes and critical academic research which aims to expose or undo power structures. The essay moves onto discussing in great detail the ethical issues that are associated with research about children and offers alternative ways of dealing with such issues in the context of critical academic research. Furthermore, this essay highlights the strengths and weaknesses of both quantitative and qualitative methodologies when conducting research based on participants that are considered as minors. Overall the main purpose of this essay is to critique administrative research by pointing out the main weaknesses associated with this kind of research method while simultaneously arguing for critical academic research.
This essay will achieve its aim by first looking at the definition of critical academic research. It asks the questions; what is critical, what is meant by academic research and how does it differ from other forms of research. The essay then moves onto outlining what is meant by administrative research and finally outlines the main differences between the two types of research methodologies. The second section of this essay focuses on the ethical issues and concerns associated with conducting research on children and adolescents which are essentially considered as minors. It looks at the implications of these ethical issues and also provides alternative methods of addressing such issues when conduction an academic research project. Ultimately, this essay also serves to outline the core strengths and weaknesses of using qualitative and quantitative methodologies with regards to youth markets.
Administrative research can be understood as research that is conducted in order to gain information for assessment, management or improvement purposes such as surveys to ascertain customer needs. It is primarily used for market, electoral or management research and is tied to existing power structures (Smythe, 2006). According to Lazarsfeld, 1941, it is carried through in the service of some kind of administrative agency either of private or public character (Lazarsfeld, 1941:7). Administrative research is subject to a number of objections one of which is directed against the aims which prevail in the majority of current studies. According to Lazarsfeld, administrative research only solves minor problems, often of a business character, when the same method could be used alternatively to improve the quality of life for the community only if they were applied to prospect projects related to addressing the economic and social issues in which society is faced with (Lazarsfeld, 1941: 7).
In his writings, Lazarsfeld, (1941) notes that the notion of critical research can be differentiated from administrative research in two respects, first, it develops a theory of the prevailing social trends of current times, general trends which yet require consideration in any concrete research problem, second, it implies ideas of basic human values according to which all actual or desired effects should be appraised (Lazarsfeld, 1941: 8). Administrative methods comprise neo-positivist, behavioral theory applied to individuals. Administrative research focuses on how to make organizations more efficient'for example, Company X aims to make brands relevant and cool for their target market which includes kids, teenagers and young adults.
The term 'critical' in critical research originates from the idea of 'critique'. It draws from the critical social science approach which has its origins in the thinking of Karl Marx and thus is underpinned by notions of social class struggles (Gunter, 2000:6). Marx's notion of critique is linked to critique of ideology. Central to the Marxist approach is the contrast between science and ideology where ideology, or common sense, is understood as knowledge that is limited (Gunter, 2000:6). In this context, science examines the relations of power which produce these common sense assumptions, i.e. look behind the appearances of the world. Critical theory, from a Marxist perspective attempts to expose instruments of oppression and thus it contributes to the emancipation of marginalized groups (Gunter, 2000: 6).
From a Marxist perspective, critical research according to Gunter (2000) is used to identify approaches that challenge norms that are often taken-for-granted and also aims to expose power structures and domination. Therefore, it assumes that there are marginalised groups whose interests are not best served by existing societal structures. According to Muncie, 2006, critical research challenges conventional knowledge bases and methodologies that make claims of scientific objectivity. Instead, it concerned with revealing the 'socio-historical specificity of knowledge as well as to clarify how knowledge reproduces structural relations of inequality and oppression' (Muncie, 2006).
Cannella (2000) asserts that not only do critical perspectives seek the historical origins of conventional social and political structures; they also seek 'to understand how victims of such social arrangements come to accept and even collaborate in maintaining oppressive aspects of the system' (Cannella, 2000: 55). Furthermore, Cannella outlines three important aspects of critical researchers:
They attempt to expose hidden power structures utilized in the creation of its own power, and the disempowerment of others; inquires about the usages of language and the circulation of discourses that shape social life; and lastly, they are significantly engaged with issues of gender, race, as well as socio-economic level as separate issues but progressively where they intersect (Cannella, 2000: 55).
Therefore, in this context, critical research implies research which aims at uncovering, understanding, and/or transforming how educational aims, challenges and tensions are related to social divisions and power differentials (Cannella, 2000: 55).
Ethics can be understood as 'A set of moral principles and rules of conduct' (Sieber, 1993; 14). Ethics in research is the application of a system of moral principles in an attempt to prevent harm to others, to promote the good and to be fair and respectful (Sieber, 1993; 14). It involves the application of ethical principles to any research project especially if the research involves human participants, for example, surveys, interviews, ethnographies and/or participant observations. Resnik 2011, emphasizes the importance to adhere to these ethical principles as norms promote the aims of research such as truth, knowledge and since research often requires corporation among participants, ethical norms aim to promote those values; mutual trust, respect and accountability, that are essential to collaborative work (Resnik, 2011).
In addition, there are numerous ethical issues and challenges associated with conducting research that focuses on children and teenagers- children are defined as anyone under the age of 18 years. However; this essay will only discuss ethical issues most relevant to the given case study.
Lack of informed consent
Ethical issues arise in all aspects of research, even more so when studying children- which are considered as the more vulnerable members of society as in the case of company X which targets young people. Generally, children are conceptualised by adults as being vulnerable and thus need to be protected from exploitative researchers. Lansdown (1994) suggests that children are vulnerable in two respects; first, they are vulnerable because of their physical weakness and their lack of experience and knowledge, automatically making them dependent on the adults around them. Secondly, they are structurally vulnerable because of their lack of political and economic power as well as their lack of civil rights which originates from presumptions made by adults about the nature of childhood (Landsown, 1994; 35). Due to this vulnerability, it becomes more challenging for researchers to conduct research based on children participants.
Company X is a specialist in youth marketing thus, targeting people under the age of 18. By law any person under the age of 18 is regarded as a minor and requires adult, parent or guardian consent before making any decisions, in this case, before minors partake in research projects orchestrated by Company X, parent consent is required. Due to the vulnerable nature of minors that are targeted by this company for research purposes, the lack of informed consent proves to be problematic. In order to protect minors from exploitative researchers and harmful research methods, parent consent is required. In this case, there is no evidence of any parent or guardian consent provided which would allow the minors to take part in any of the research projects conducted by the company (Bryman, 2012: 138).
Under critical academic research the first step in conducting a research project on children under the age of 18 is to get permission from the child's parent or legal guardian. The parent must be well informed of the objective of the research, the risks involved, benefits and process of the research project. It is only then that the parent can give consent for the child's participation in the study (Alderson, 1995). However, the child still needs to give consent as well and say that they are willing to be a part of the study. A child's right to refuse to take part should be respected. This applies even if parents or guardians have given consent. It should be explained to children that they may choose to discontinue the session if they are not comfortable with continuing (Alderson, 1995). Should any of these steps be over looked or not taken into consideration for whatever reason, the data and results generated from the research conducted are automatically invalid and cannot be used to contribute towards any kind of knowledge or epistemology (Bryman, 2012: 138).
Due to the na??ve nature of Company X's target market, an ethical dilemma is established. Critiques of the kind of research done by Company X may argue that covert observation- where the researcher's true identity is unknown- can easily go unnoticed because of the lack of intellectual capacity and competence of targeted minors (Bryman, 2012: 138).
Questions of why is the research being conducted, for what purposes, who is funding the research and how will the findings gathered from the research contribute to epistemology will rarely come up when doing research on children and minors especially where there is no consent from the parents or guardians responsible. Therefore, according to the rules that govern critical academic research, it is the responsibility of the researcher to explain in great detail what the research project is all about (Bryman, 2012: 138). No crucial information that can possibly deter the participants from agreeing to take part in the study should be omitted. While explaining, the researcher also needs to use simplistic language that is both meaningful and simple enough for the participants to understand (Alderson, 1995).
Closely linked to the ethical issue of lack of informed consent is the notion of deception. According to Bryman (2012), deception occurs when researchers represent their work as something other than what it is (Bryman, 2012: 143). Deception is common in research projects similar to those of Company X because researchers often want to limit participant's understanding of what the research is about in order to get a more natural response from the participants (Bryman, 2012: 143). The issue of deception is slightly more prominent when doing research on children because it is that much easier to deceive a child than it is to deceive an experienced adult, children cannot tell the difference between truth and fiction, this is because minors, compared to adults are less experienced and are less likely to be able differentiate between a researcher that is being legitimate and one that is fake. Therefore, it is the duty of the researcher to ensure that the participants are not under the impression that they are obliged to continue with the process until the end, participants must also know that they can withdraw any data provided at any stage without any explanations (Bryman, 2012: 143).
Harm to participants
Research that is likely to harm participants is regarded as unacceptable. The protection of research participants from risk of significant harm both during the research process and as a consequence thereof is another ethical issue in conducting research on children (Alderson, 1995). Harm can entail a number of facets however; in relation to the given case study, psychological harm and induced stress are the most prominent. When conducting research on children, the researchers of Company X need to avoid by all means personal, social and psychological harm to the participant. Researchers also need to be aware that when dealing with children and teenagers, discussions about issues that have not been anticipated by either the researcher or the participant may occur. For example, the disclosure of abuse. Vulnerable individuals like abused children can find participating in research projects very stressful and trigger emotional responses. Academic research asserts that children should be entitled to the same degree of confidentiality and privacy as adult participants with additional provision that researchers will have to deal with cases of disclosure of potential harm when they arise (Alderson, 1995: 3). Alderson suggests that if researchers feel the need to report a child's confidences, they should try to discuss it with the child first (Alderson, 1995: 3). What is even more problematic in administrative research focusing on children is the question of resilience. Company X researchers need to ensure that their participants are resilient enough to cope with being asked to talk about both past and current experiences that can be traumatic for most such as abuse. Issues of competence, vulnerability and autonomy are always at the forefront of ethical issues that occur when conducting research focusing on minors (Alderson, 1995: 3).
According to Mayall (1994), the biggest ethical challenge for researchers conducting research with children is the inequalities in power and status between adults and children. Mayall 1994, notes that discussions about research based on children have a tendency to focus on the following problems: the fact that children cannot tell truth from fiction, in order to please the researcher, children make up things and fabricate the truth, children do not have enough experience or knowledge to discuss their experiences or usefully report it, and finally, children's accounts are themselves socially constructed and what they say in conversation is what they have been told by adults (Mayall, 1994:11).
Privacy and confidentiality
Another area of ethical concern relates to the issue of the degree to which invasions of privacy can be condoned. The transgression of the right to privacy in the name of research and contribution to epistemology is unacceptable. Failing to provide adequate information about the research project and details about the research process is in itself an invasion of privacy. Covert methods also violate the principles of informed consent and may invade the privacy of participants (BSA Student;139). Covert methods are considered as violations of the privacy principle because participants are not being given the opportunity to prohibit invasions of their privacy (Bryman 2012;14). In the case of conducting studies on children, because of their vulnerable and na??ve nature, the participants targeted by Company X might also disclose information that they would not have revealed if they knew where they stood with the researcher in terms of confidentiality and privacy (Bryman 2012;142).
3. Strengths and weaknesses
It is important to note that each approach to research- either quantitative or qualitative has its strengths and weaknesses especially when conducting research based on children and minors. The primary strength of qualitative research according to author of 'The Media's Impact on Children' Karyn Riddle (2009), is its ability to provide rich, in-depth information about children, teenagers and the media. Because of the numerous ethical concerns researchers have to take into consideration when conducting a study based on minors, many researchers refrain from making use of participants that are under age and would much rather approach adult participants. Consequently, there a lack of information about the nature of childhood and how children perceive the world, therefore, society fails to extensively understand children, behaviour patterns and understand how they view the world. Qualitative research offers an opportunity to fill this gap as it provides rich, detailed information about society's more vulnerable members. Its weakness however, is that researchers cannot generalize the findings obtained from the research process to a large group or even draw conclusions about statistical patterns or trends (Riddle, 2009: 33).Due to the fact that qualitative research usually involves research with only a few children as participants, researchers cannot claim that findings apply to all children and teenagers in general (Riddle, 2009: 33).
Quantitative researchers on the other hand usually recruit hundreds of children to partake in their research or make use of standardized laboratory procedures, which makes it possible to apply the generated data to large groups of children and draw definitive conclusions (Riddle, 2009: 33). However, quantitative research does not provide as much detail as qualitative research and often takes place in an artificial environment. Most answers are given in the form of numbers and children are not always able to express all their feelings to a quantitative researcher (Riddle, 2009: 33). Researchers need to take extra precautionary measures to ensure that vulnerable participants such as children are not harmed in the process. The ethical norm with regards to children is the responsibility of the researcher to protect children and ensure that they do not end up harming them in the process of conducting research (Riddle, 2009, 33).
Experiments can also have a negative impact on child participants. By having children participate in an experiment, for example, having them play violent video games in order to observe their behaviour and effect of the video game on their minds, the experiment can instantly go wrong. It could lead to imitation or lower sensitivity on the part of the child. Therefore, researchers need to take extra steps to make sure they protect children from potential harm (Riddle, 2009: 33).
Another problem that occurs when researching children has to do with consent. Ethical norms require researchers to seek consent from participants in order to partake in a study. This means that the person being recruited has to say that they are willing to be a part of the research project. Furthermore, the potential participant can only give this consent after being told everything about the research project; the goals, what will happen, what might be the side effects as well as what might be the benefits to them by participating (Riddle, 2009: 34). When conducting research on adults, all these things are told to the adult participant in a meaningful language which they understand before the research process begins and the adult gives permission to participate. In the case of minors however, many people worry that children are not mature enough to understand research projects done through quantitative and qualitative methodologies and cannot fully understand processes when they are described to them. In particular many people worry that children are not capable of understanding the risks associated with research. Therefore, many people argue that children are not able to give consent to participate in a research study (Riddle, 2009: 34).
There are far more considerations that researchers need to take into account when dealing with children in research. The first step in a conducting a research project on a child under the age of 18 years is to get permission from the child's parent or legal guardian. In addition, the parent must be adequately informed about the goal of the study, the risks and procedures; it is only then that the parent gives his or her consent for the child to participate. Therefore, it is no longer consent from only the participant that is required, both the parent and participant need to give consent in order for the research process to commence (Riddle, 2009: 34).
In summary researchers must take several steps before they can conduct research using children and teenagers as participants which would normally not be the case with adult participants where only one form of consent is required.
Furthermore, when using surveys, researchers have to be very careful when asking children questions. According to Riddle, 2009: 34, children have a tendency to say 'Yes' to questions more than they say 'No', therefore, the questions have to be phased in a way that will prompt children to give the most honest answer. In addition, all the questions in a survey must be phrased in simple language that children can understand, in other words, this means that researchers need to reconstruct the survey questions in order to accommodate the level of understanding of the children (Riddle, 2009: 34).
This essay has discussed the main differences between administrative research and critical academic research. It outlines that administrative research is primarily used for market research as witnessed in the case of Company X- A marketing company that makes brands relevant to their target market. The essay has also highlighted the main weaknesses and critiques of administrative research, simultaneously arguing for the use of critical academic research. Critical research aims to expose and undo power structures that are embedded in society and also serves to diversify a debate through the exposure of truth and different perspectives.
This essay has also looked at the ethical issues involved with doing social research involving children and young people. It has highlighted issues of lack of informed consent, harm to participants, deception and invasion of privacy under the banner of social research and contribution to knowledge. Ways in which these issues can be dealt with or avoided have been discussed in detail offering the reader insight on how ethical issues would normally be dealt with in the context of academic research. This essay acknowledges that there are various limitations in the process of research, taking into consideration the ethical implications. Finally the essay identifies the major strengths and weaknesses of using quantitative and qualitative methodologies in conducting research based on children and youth markets.
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