You are interested in understanding the group processes, member dynamics, and de

You are interested in understanding the group processes, member dynamics, and development of group norms among members of semi-closed societies (e.g., the Freemasons, Cannon Club members at Princeton University, etc.). You eventually gain access to a society of this type by posing as a member during one of their ceremonies, and collect extensive field notes. What are your ethical obligations as a researcher to the members of the society who have been the subject of your research? Does gaining access as a non-researcher mean that it is unnecessary to obtain informed consent before collecting data? Alternatively, does gaining access as a non-researcher mean that you are bound by the rules of the society that you “joined” (which probably means not secretly collecting data)? Ultimately, do researchers risk entering an ethical gray area when they gain access to an insular population under the guise of something other than observational research, where they do not obtain informed consent, and when they are not responsible for adhering to the group’s rules and norms? Can such research be justified in terms of costs and potential benefits?

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