Toward a goodwill ethics of online research methods

  • Brittany Kelley University of Louisville
Keywords: Literacy, Methodology, Qualitative, Technology


As more academic work (teaching, research, and publishing) moves online, we acafans face ever more challenges regarding how academia and online communities can and should interact. Since academia enjoys a position of power, while fan communities are often highly marginalized, I argue that, as acafans, we have a special responsibility to the fan communities we engage with and study. Fulfilling this responsibility means using what I call a goodwill ethics heuristic approach to online research methods, which requires us to balance the concerns of fans with those of scholarly development. In order to trace what this goodwill heuristic approach to online research methods might look like, I start by examining ethical values of research methods as they are defined by the Belmont Report. I then revisit the methods of previous fan studies. I add to these methods an extended set of ethical values as they have been described by prominent scholars in a range of fields using human subjects research. Finally, I discuss my own online fannish profile, focusing on my self-positioning and how it has been crucial in developing a goodwill ethics approach in my own research. Ultimately, I argue that all online research should use a goodwill ethics heuristic approach, and that such an approach is chiefly characterized by researchers' willingness to abdicate their expert status where necessary; ongoing negotiations between researchers and participants; and researchers' taking sufficient time to establish both an emic perspective of the community or site being researched and relationships with participants.

Author Biography

Brittany Kelley, University of Louisville
Brittany Kelley recently completed her doctorate at The University of Louisville. She teaches first-year composition courses, as well as sophomore-level expository writing and business writing. Her research interests include: online fanfiction, literacy practices, digital-new media studies, and composition. In addition, she is particularly interested in research methodologies and ethics.