Newkirk: “Seduction and Betrayal in Qualitative Research”

Newkirk opens the article with a quotation from Don Quixote, framing a parallel between restraining the voices of subjects and denying a character “access to his own characterization” (15). The “ethics of bad news” embodies the practice of conducting research that could potentially reveal negativity in the subjects involved, an ethical confrontation between the teacher/researcher and the subject(s). Newkirk claims that the exploitative potential of research designs must be acknowledged, and new guidelines must be considered to protect subjects. Informed consent forms, Newkirk claims, do not typically provide detailed and vivid descriptions of their respective research projects. Instead, these documents aid in the seduction of subjects who may feel comforted by a series of assurances. Calling the discourse of informed consent forms into question, Newkirk identifies the ambiguity of these documents that hardly works to reveal the true interests of researchers. To illuminate that research subjects should not be blamed for failing to provide with the desired results, Newkirk calls to famous studies into question that, arguably, represent a failure of ethical awareness in research design.

Newkirk turns to “Remediation as Social Construct: Perspectives from an Analysis of Classroom Discourse” by Hull, Rose, Fraser, and Castellano to identify a problem. A second language learner named Maria, who presented a conversational style confronting the teacher’s class-facilitated discussion, is classified as “deficient in sequential thinking” (Newkirk 6). “Thus what is at most a different conversational style is transformed into a cognitive deficit” (Newkirk 6). June, the teacher participating in the study, provides highly stereotypical remarks about Maria’s contribution to classroom discussions. The researchers, however, failed to acknowledge these stereotypes during the study (Newkirk 7).

Recognizing an issue between research goals and ethical obligation, Newkirk notes that “a utilitarian cost-benefit analysis might show that the ‘greater good’ of the published study, in this case the insights into stereotyping, outweighs the costs” (8). In a sense, calling the stereotypical remarks into question may have jeopardized the contribution of the study to the field, yet Newkirk remarks that the value of any study to the profession “is easy to overestimate” (8). A focus on local harms instead of a romanticized ideal of the value of a study should thus be the goal.

In his critique of “On the Subjects of Class and Gender in ‘The Literacy Letters” by Brodkey, Newkirk identifies great concern in a study that both feigns volunteerism and prevents subjects from contacting each other (9). In what Newkirk considers “studying down,” Brodkey seems to ridicule her own students for failing to connect and thoughtfully engage in the narratives of ABE students. Further, students were corralled into generating a range of assumptions about the ABE students solely based on socioeconomic class, education level, and race. Newkirk notes that Brodkey “illustrates the hegemonic practices that she deplores in her students’ letters,” as she honors her own reading of the letters.

Confronting “bad news,” Newkirk provides a “default position” to guide research. Through this model, “the teacher is responsible for explaining why he or she chose to vary the default position” (Newkirk 12-3). Newkirk then provides guidelines to ensure that potential “bad news” is made clear before participants submit to the study. Co-interpretation may also help ensure that qualitative data is upheld to its polyvocal nature. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Newkirk supports intervention and a moral obligation to help teachers and subjects when researchers identify an issue. Ethical behavior does not coincide with academic success, and both teacher and researchers, however stark of a division between them, must uphold a high ethical standard in all areas of their work.


  1. Can we understand informed consent forms as sales pitches? How would Newkirk respond? What can be considered the opposite of pitch culture? Can it reasonably be applied here?
  2. Research as advocacy, Newkirk notes, can be thought of as “a selectively chosen sample of the most convincing examples of student success” (12). Is Hillocks guilty of research as advocacy in “Teaching, Reflecting, Researching”?
  3. Do you sense the same perception felt by public school teachers about researchers being “out of touch”? Does this lend to a view that divides teachers and researchers? Are you a teacher, researcher, or both?