Davidson, Julia O’Connell. “If No Means No, Does Yes Mean Yes? Consenting to Research Intimacies.” History of the Human Sciences 21, no. 4 (November 1, 2008): 49–67.
This article reflects on some ethical dilemmas presented by an ethnographic study of prostitution that I conducted in the 1990s. The study drew one research subject into a long and very close relationship with me, and though she was an active and fully consenting participant in the research, she was also objectified within both the field relationship and the textual products it generated. This kind of contradiction has been recognized and discussed as a more general problem for ethnography by feminist and critical ethnographers. In this article it is considered specifically in relation to informed consent as an ethical issue. If an ethnographer secures the free and informed consent of a research subject, does this necessarily make the intimacy of their subsequent relationship ethical? Is it possible for anyone to genuinely consent to being objectified through the research process?