Jane Rendell

Practising Ethics

My work on ethics at the Bartlett, started in July 2013, when I ‘stepped down’ from my role as Vice Dean of Research, because of my disagreement with UCL over the acceptance of the BHP Billiton funds for research on sustainability. I decided this act could also involve a stepping up, to get more involved in institutional work on ethics. In January 2014, we held, Rich Seams/Dark Pools, under Chatham House rules, and in July 2014, my research proposal, Practising Ethics, for a year-long project examining ethics in built environment research – pedagogically and professionally – received Bartlett funding. The project ended in June 2015, with an international conference, called Practising Ethics, where speakers from academia and industry explored ethics in housing, international development, sustainability and governance, this was followed by three other conferences.

This developed into the Bartlett Ethics Commission and Bartlett Ethics Working Group, which, with representatives from across the Faculty, engaged practically with UCL’s review of ethics procedures.

Funded by the commission, Bartlett Ethics Fellow, Dr David Roberts, has produced a mapping of ethical issues across Bartlett research, ethical codes across around 60 built environment professions. This work received a commendation at the RIBA Research Awards 2018. David has also been developing ethical guidance for Bartlett BA, MA and PhD students. Along with other researchers he is currently working on a set of protocols to offer guidance to on the deliberation of ethical dilemmas and the making of ethical judgements with specific regard to the methods conducted in built environment research.

We have hosted many events since including conferences such as:

Practising Ethics: Positionality, Spatiality and Subjectivity in Dialogue: Symposium (October 2015)

With Diana Salazar, Speech ExtrActions – Testimony, Evidence and Witness in Response to the Mining Industry: One Day Symposium (October 2016)

With Hayley Newman, Judgement Calls: One Day Symposium (13 June 2017)

With Emma Cheatle and Helene Frichot, Creative Resistance: Architecture, Art, Writing, a Life…: One Day Symposium (4 July 2017)

We have been questioning if the ethical principles drawn from medicine that universities use for working with human subjects, such as ‘informed consent’, ‘confidentiality’, and ‘benefit not harm’, are the best ones for built environment research and specifically for practice-led participatory research. We are particularly concerned with how the procedures that govern ethical approval at UCL are guided by methods derived from medical research, that aren’t necessarily the most appropriate for humanities and in particular practice-led research. We have explored how we need to acknowledge how the positions we take up when conducting research are influenced by dynamics of power and knowledge, and inform conditions of trust.This includes the philosophies from which they are drawn, as well as the ways in which researcher/researched relations are defined. And in this we’ve worked with researchers Professors Barb Bolt, Estelle Barrett and Pia Edna Brown from art, philosophy and architecture, and their brilliant idare project in Australia, and their thinking around ethical know-how.

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