Participatory Research and the Medicalization of Research Ethics Processes

Tehseen Noorani, Andrew Charlesworth, Morag McDermont, Alison Kite

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
378 Downloads (Pure)


This article illustrates how medicalized epistemologies and methodologies significantly influence the institutional ethical review processes applied to socio-legal research in law schools. It argues this development has elevated particular renderings of mental distress and objectivity to universal definitions, potentially placing a straitjacket on methodological innovation. The authors use two case studies from their experiences as researchers in a UK Law School, alongside a small-scale survey of socio-legal researchers in other UK law schools, to illustrate the problems that can arise in securing ethical approval for socio-legal research, in particular with participatory research designs which mobilise ideas of mental distress and objectivity not premised on conventional medical understandings.
The article develops key proposals that the authors feel merit further inquiry. Firstly, that there should be a comprehensive evaluation of how the jurisdiction of ethical review for socio-legal research is established. Secondly, that socio-legal scholarship can contribute to debates concerning the discursive, material and procedural constitution of institutional ethics approval processes. Finally, that we might rethink the nature of, and relationship between, university-based research ethics committees and NHS research ethics committees, by placing both within wider ecologies of capacities for ethical decision-making.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)378-400
Number of pages23
JournalSocial and Legal Studies
Issue number3
Early online date21 Dec 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2017


  • participatory research
  • ethical approval
  • REC
  • medicalization
  • mental health
  • triggers
  • materiality


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