Journal Article

Why a Research Ethics Committee for Social Science? Reflections on Three Years of experience at the Royal Tropical Institute, Amsterdam

Published on 1 January 2011

This article examines the Royal Tropical Institute’s (KIT), Amsterdam, experiences of establishing and using a Research Ethics Committee. A review of KIT’s Research Ethics Committee showed that almost half of the 21 studies presented needed to be adjusted based on the committee’s review. This study employed participant observation, review of policy documents, interviews and questionnaires.

The open-ended nature of anthropological research processes and methods such as participatory observation can be at odds with the demands of ethical review boards, which often require a fully worked-out proposal. However, clearance by an ethical review board is increasingly a requirement for all social scientists.

Proponents argue that clearance is a logical necessity for compliance with international human rights standards and increased requests from national authorities. Critics argue that these boards are preventing original research because they require fully worked-out studies, which may lead to duplication in the field or run the risk of rigidly following a pre-defined protocol in the field.


Pauline Oosterhoff

Research Fellow

Publication details

Zwaniken, P. and Oosterhoff P.
Medische Antropologie, issue 23