Paper short abstract:
Tracing ethics: professionalism to audit to professionalism again? I use my fieldwork with ethics committee auditors to explore the dissonance between an ethics configured as paperworked bureaucracy, and an ethics designed to appeal to duty and the professional self.
Paper long abstract:
Ethics moved in the 1980s from a set of professional standards to a process external to medicine itself, drawing in techniques of audit from the era and leading to a significant shift in the locus of governance of biomedicine. Configured as ethical review, this externalized form of ethics grew in scope and format, and throughout recent decades has become integrated into biomedical research infrastructure established for international, multi-sited clinical trials.
This paper draws on multi-sited ethnographic research with a NGO working to build the capacity of research ethics committees in Asia through training and accreditation. In addition to examining how the accreditation process is conducted and legitimized, I use my fieldwork with these assessors to explore the dissonance between an ethics configured as paperworked bureaucracy, and an ethics designed to appeal to duty and the professional self.
Structured in three swings of the pendulum, I trace broad eras of ethics: an ethics of the professionalised self, an ethics of the audited self, and an ethics maturing from the disappointments of ethics as a pre-emptive audit that now (re)turns to self-management as governance. Exploring the dual rise in 'evidence based ethics' and 'integrity', I suggest that in this clash of contemporary values we find not only new calculations of audit practices, but also reiterations of previous states of responsibilization and accountability.
Governing by numbers: audit culture, rankings and the New World (Re)order