With my mentor Dr. Burton's encouragement, I have been documenting my research efforts on this blog, from feeble beginnings to rather remarkable events. Also at his suggestion I worked on establishing contacts, especially contacts in my program location in Dharamsala. I did not use Norbu's name on my blog to invade his privacy, I simply used it because I didn't know any better. He is now so ingrained into my research project that changing his name to protect privacy is impractical and, I think, unnecessary.
But what if I am wrong?
What are the potential risks to my informants if I post identifiers on my blog? How do I properly deal with this information while still maintaining the openly accessible format of this online research publishing? This issue is one at the heart of the shift to the digital paradigm. To what extent does unrestricted online publishing benefit or harm society at large? What information is appropriate to post online in an open forum? How does this format work with privacy and copyright?
There are some things that are obviously unwise to publicly post, like bank account numbers and passwords, but what about first names? What about pictures? What will I be able to post from the field, and what information must be private?
Another question. What are the potential benefits for the Tibetan community, my community, or society as a whole as a result of my research? I don't think any individual Tibetan will benefit (although I could explore the possibility of a larger audience for the Tibetan cause, a specific instance in which one Tibetan man could share his story with an educated American audience or with the readers of my blog) but I think the benefits are mostly for the society. My research will help to unite two essential elements of the Tibetan community in Dharamsala--the goal of cultural preservation and the onslaught of the digital renaissance. Perhaps I will find ways in which digital literacy is promoting cultural preservation, thereby increasing cross-cultural understanding and world comprehension of the international nature of the digital renaissance, or I may find ways in which digital literacy is inhibiting cultural preservation, in which case my findings can be a warning.
There is an art to writing a research proposal, and the art involves painstaking, accurate detail. Fortunately, my ideas have come to several concrete research processes that I hope will yield the information I seek, but I need to practice carefully articulating precisely what my research entails. The point of the IRB proposal, at least, is to convince the IRB readers that my the benefits of my research will outweigh the risks (which, I hope, will be minimal to those involved).
I am glad that I'm working on specific procedures that I will carry out in the field. It makes me less nervous when I am prepared for what I face in Dharamsala.
Photo credit eriktorner