Sunday, November 1, 2009

Marcus' questions

Q1) Hopf’s comment about the rights of criminals being less important in a society than the rights of average citizens reminded me of a quote by Dostoyevsky, who argued that “A society can be judged by its treatment of its prisoners.” (And by Dostoyevsky, I really mean John Cusack in Con Air, who attributed the quote to – I think – Dostoyevsky; my Russian Lit knowledge is pretty weak, but I think the quote fits well with Hopf’s argument, regardless of who said it) I can understand the urge to analyze such a power structure as a power structure, even with a Marxian analysis, since a prison system clearly functions on a “have” and “have-not” basis; but it’s also not designed to be arbitrary, and it’s intended to be a reverse meritocracy – admittance into the penal system is not ostensibly based on class, but rather on actions. So, why the focus on prisoners, why not analyze the society from the crime itself?

Q2) I think that working in journalism research, it’s easier to grasp what Hopf is talking about regarding anonymity and ethics. Reporters grapple with the same issues all the time, and weird circumstances lead to weird ethical dilemmas; having been there, it’s easier to deal with them as researchers as well. So I’m curious, is our field better adjusted ethically because of that experience? Or is it pretty much the same as other fields?

Q3) I think Punch is being a bit short-sighted when he says that the ideas of “public” and “private” are debatable. One of the things that I liked about government reporting – particularly compared to the cops beat – is that just about everyone involved in government knew what they were getting into, and that as public figures, arguably anything they said was of public interest. I’d say that at least in the ‘States, we’ve got a pretty good idea of what constitutes “public,” and there are plenty of issues that fall clearly into that category; I’d say it’s the “private” part that gets murky, and there’s a subtle difference there.

Q4) The discussion about writing, I thought, was a bit hypocritical. It also made me think of that scene – getting back on the movie train – from Dead Poets Society, where there’s a very structured rubric in a textbook for analyzing and correlating eloquence and impact, and Robin Williams tells everyone to rip out that entire section of the book. Why complain about rubrics, and the burdens of publishing and the rigidity of quantitative research, and then turn around and play the grammar snob? Qualitative research is designed to be flexible, that makes sense – but don’t ask for flexibility and then enforce your own evaluative scale, you know? How do you define, or interpret, “good writing?”

Q5) I also liked the German Ethics Code, and the point about letting participants withdraw after the fact. I’m not sure I’d call it “deception,” though – I’d approach it the way I’ve approached journalism interviews before, with a “I’m being deliberately vague so I don’t put words in your mouth, and I can be more specific when we’re finished.” That’s not really deception, is it? Or am I just trying to split hairs?

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