Student Photography and Ethical Clearance: Do we need a tailored code for research ethics?



Photography, Film & Multimedia


  • ethics, freedom of expression, curriculum


In an earlier paper presented at a DEFSA conference, Munro called for a debate on and the development of a research ethics code tailored specifically for design – as opposed to simply importing, applying or borrowing ethical principles applicable (and as such possibly more suitable) to the medical and scientific disciplines.

The aim of this paper is to advocate likewise for a tailored research ethics code, but, more comprehensively, aimed at researchers working in the fields of art, design, as well as photography.

Informed consent, participant anonymity and non-maleficence are well-established ethical requirements in the medical and scientific research environments. These requirements have likewise become mandatory for postgraduate art, design and photography students at some South African local universities.
The South African Constitution and the Press Code provide a valuable reference for change, as well as creating and upholding relevant ethical, societal conditions for its people. With reference to these, we support our arguments for a tailored research ethics code by indicating how the needs of a documentary photography research project, conflict with the research ethics requirements of a university research ethics committee (REC). We further illustrate this conflict by debating a photographic documentary case study on religious doctrine and liberal society.

We conclude by arguing against the strict application of medical ethical requirements to research projects in art, design, and photography research projects. We should consider moving towards a tailored ethical code, influenced by Hutton’s Radical Moralism, and ideals enshrined in the Press Code.

Keywords: Ethics, freedom of expression, controversial subjects, research ethics, ethical clearance


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DEFSA promotes relevant research with the focus on design + education through its biennial conferences, to promote professionalism, accountability and ethics in the education of young designers. Our next conference is a hybrid event. See above for details.

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