Conflicts of Interest jeopardize the work of ethics committees; if an undeclared conflict is discovered, the legitimacy of an ethics committee is threatened. In this paper, I explore the potential of unrevealed personal connections, and the threat that certain types of intimacy pose to ethical review.
Drawing on multi-sited research conducted with ethics review committees in five countries in Asia between 2009 and 2011, this paper asks two sets of questions. The first are aimed at demonstrating the relationships between committee members, and revealing the perspectival assumptions implicit in the form of a committee and its decisions. The second show how relationships committee members have with others outside the committee room are configured. By using ethnographic material from trainings and meetings, I ask what counts as a conflict of interest, and how it can be detected? Given that conflicts are dangerous only when revealed, how does an internal personal knowledge become externalized? How are committee members trained in reflexivity, prompted to ‘disclose’ their conflicts through re-imagining the self and fashioning revelation as a moralized objectivity that only an individual committee member is capable of performing? ?
By ethnographically exploring conflicts of interest, this paper develops academic debate on the proximity between law and ethics as modes of governing in contexts of biomedical research, and reveals the difficulties legal concepts encounter as they are invoked in new contexts.
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