Senior Citizens, Oral History, and Ethics

Reflecting on the oral history ethics readings both before and then after visiting the senior citizen center did the gravity of the implications of a maliciously used oral history became evident to me. Just from the 7 to 10 senior citizens that came to the center that from my direct contact, serval had either vision, movement, or literacy difficulties. These characteristics became quite evident while trying to review the release forms, having to go over several small (a sentence or two) sections repeatedly. A malicious or unethical interviewer could with ease take advantage of an illiterate subject. An illiterate interviewee would have to take what the interviewer says at face value, being unable to discern what the release form actually allows. The incredibly intricate ethical landscape has given form to the Institutional Review Board (IRB), while even though the process can be cumbersome, most if not all projects should go through its processes. The IRB is meant to protect the subject, the interviewer, and the institution/or project from unethical practices. While I do think it is inherently impossible for any person to be truly objective because of the human aspect that is more often than not present in interviews. An interviewee’s or interviewer’s voice, sex, clothing, personality, or a countless number of other characteristics may trigger a person’s unconscious bias, swaying them to ask or act in different ways. While a project in its overarching objectives might change after different stages of a project, it is the responsibility of the interviewer to effectively communicate why and in what ways their voice/stories will be used. Because of prolonged time together an interviewer and an interviewee might become comfortable in their relationship. This, however, brings danger and other questions to light. Does an interviewee communicate something in confidence to their friend the interviewer, is it needed to be explicitly stated? Does an interviewee consciously alter their narration in order to continue the appearance to the interviewer? While these questions might, and probably will continue to be evident, they are important topics to explore and be wary of with every subject.

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