Ethical quandries

One of the organizations I tried to do fieldwork with asked me to write a little blurb for the powerpoint presentation I did for them. As I started to write the blurb, and as I realized I was going to attend their annual conference to present the powerpoint materials, I was reminded of why my fieldwork didn't work out with them.

I wasn't able to do fieldwork with them because they kept wanting me to produce materials, and ultimately, I found that I didn't completely support their mission. They are very pro-vaccine, and they have explicitly acknowledged that there are compromises in getting their message out. Though they are not necessarily big pharma supporters, per se, they have accepted funding from the manufacturers of the vaccine. This uneasy alliance has been a major obstacle in my fieldwork, as I kept trying to dodge the inevitable overlap between the advocacy work and the corporate machine. Advocacy is a loaded term, as much shaped by corporate interests, government biases, and misinformation, as anything else. Health research and innovation in the U.S. are always messily entangled, and I don't know how well I've avoided being implicated. My work with the public health department, the CDC, and this nonprofit has put me in the position of supporting something that I have huge reservations about. As a researcher, participation has allowed me access to information and processes that I could only speculate about if I hadn't been involved. But how do I now sit down to write when I want to criticize the production of knowledge that I have also created. I am not immune from these very critiques (yes...bad pun).

So as I start to confront the monstrosity that is the dissertation, I also want to figure out how to make cogent arguments that don't make me feel like a huge hypocrite. The problem I've had with this project all along is that I seem to be an eternal relativist. Every position I try to stake out seems rife with contingencies. Everything seems to have a "yes, but..." component, and it exhausts me. Is this a form of insecurity? Or is this just a general uneasiness with commitment and claiming a position? My recommendations, when I dare formulate them, always come back to the concern with what precedes the vaccine -- what does not change, what remains the same, and how problematic all that earlier stuff is. It's as though I cut myself off before I can begin, but it also prevents me from moving forward. Strangely, however, the very argument I want to make is all about pre-emption and disruption. It's as though the very concept I'm trying to work out is haunting my thinking and writing. Or maybe it's just all a complicated distraction that I'm creating to avoid the daunting task.

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