Rhetorical Strategies for Working with Institutional Review Boards

Elizabeth L. Angeli and Z. Koppelmann

Computers and Composition Online


Theoretical Framework: Institutional Action

Scholars have called researchers to action on a larger, more institutional level. In “Bureaucracies of Mass Deception: Institutional Review Boards and the Ethics of Ethnographic Research,” Charles Bosk and Raymond De Vries discuss the challenges ethnographers, who are usually housed in anthropology and communication departments, encounter working with IRBs. Bosk and De Vries begin by discussing the origins of IRB and the inclusion of social science in IRB reviews. However, they note, “social and behavioral research encompasses a vast amount of ground to cover with a single set of regulations” (251). They do not see their ethnography research adequately included in IRB processes:

  IRBs can develop best practices for routine review and approval of qualitative research proposals; however, many in the social science community feel that those best practices will never be good practices so long as research is modeled on the standard clinical trial. (252)

By locating the challenge that IRB processes are modeled on science and not social science, Bosh and De Vries open a space for social scientists to educate IRBs to foster better research practices in the field. They offer suggestions for social scientists to accomplish this goal: engage in more studies of how IRBs work, increase both the number of social scientists on review boards and their knowledge of IRB guidelines, inform IRBs about social science research methods, and investigate “other ways of organizing review of social science research” (260). Bosk and De Vries’s work is extended when applied to non-social science research areas, such as RC.

Similar to Bosk and De Vries, Heidi McKee calls for modifications to the IRB review process in “Changing the Process of Institutional Review Board Compliance.” She proposes that the IRB process could “have . . . multiple forms or multiple committees categorized for different types of studies” and have “more qualitative researchers serve on the boards and learn about the IRB process” (492). While we believe that institutional change may be necessary to revise IRB process to more clearly include RC research, we believe that this type of change may begin with the approval process. Therefore, institutional change originates with an individual researcher and his or her research proposals.