Sunday, December 30, 2007

My Small Skinny Singaporean Wedding, co-starring the ethics review board

I thought I had to update.

My examination results exceeded my expectations, and I am en route to graduating with a 2nd Upper Honours degree. They no longer call it "upper", because you will have a "lower" and no one wants a "lower" on their resume. They call it "2A" and "2B", but I think that doesn't help much. It is as good as saying you are a "A student" or a "B student". But that is how society judges your worth and decides what kind of rice you will be eating.

I seldom relate much about my life on this blog, but I guess putting down thoughts alone is nothing new or unique. Thoughts shouldn't be divorced from one's identity.

Any how, in 2008, I am going to tie the knot, not on the necks of gay-haters and the ethics review board, but as in doing an "Aaron Ng". Aaron, a senior in the communications and new media department, and probably the best/top student in his batch, got married after graduation. So, in the eyes of some, I am walking that treaded path. Hopefully, I can even be a part of the department either as a graduate student or a staff like him. Maybe the department, having the benefit of the presence of his mental sharpness, can also benefit from my insanity (they have enough normal people; what they need are wackos).

The lure and challenge of independence are one strong motivator, other than being married to someone you can consider a good buddy, best friend. Why can't Singaporeans marry early? Is early Singaporean marriage so disincentivised, institutionally and socially?

Times are good/bad now. Resale flats are being sold way above valuation. As a couple, we do not have riches in our pockets. It has been suggested that we go on "Deal or No Deal" to get the money for the downpayment and the cash upfront.

As for the wedding, we just want it small and simple, an accurate reflection of our personalities. In our minds, we are married. But no human being exists outside his/her body, which happens to inhabit a cultural space with cultural forces and expectations. Meanings and symbols have been ascribed to the companionship they call a matrimonial union, and it is an obgliation to follow them - a rites of passage expected of and for a wedded couple that exists in a social space. To me, being together is just a small piece of meat. In the eyes of society, it is a hamburger, because there's a sesame seed bun, lettuce, onions, cheese, ketchup, pickles and other what-nots. Our piece of meat is turned into a hamburger. So whose wedding is it supposed to be any way, ours or society's?

Any way, I have been really busy with my thesis. Writing. And also getting exasperated with the ethics review board.

It is because of "research ethics" concerns that my interviews cannot begin. In fact, they are pushed back by 5 weeks. I think it is going to be 6 weeks.

I just wished the board just told me what to do and what to write and how to conduct the interviews. They have kept it open-ended and asked me to fill the form myself, since it was my research. But the form was bounced back to me for updating. Why not cut the email exchanges and just tell me what you want to be filled in and how you want it to be done?

I asked how should I fill in the part about data storage (i.e. interview tapes and transcripts) and was told to keep it in a safe place. When I quizzed further, I was told to make sure it is secure. Hell, I don't never know what is the expected security protocol for interview material! So I wrote that it would be kept in the cupboard in my residence, if that is safe enough. The application bounced back and I was advised to keep it under lock and key in the NUS.

Some like their coffee black. Some like to have brown sugar. For me, I like my form-filling to have no frills.

The ethics review board probably consists of poor communicators, whose primary focus is some form of backside-covering exercise. Form-filling should be fuss-free and foolproof.

If the board requires a certain type of answer, a certain type of procedure and a certain type of protocol, they should clearly and firstly articulate it. I have spent about 2-3 weeks filling the form and spent the entire Decemeber waiting for the approval, and I am still waiting for it.

The organisation that employs the logic of the "reasonable man on the street" to determine sensitive issues in research foci, obvious lacks the qualities of the mythical and vague model they so subscribe to.

My honours thesis topic is "Sexual minorities in the Straits Times". Wow! Did you say gay or lesbian? That is sensitive! Unfortunately, my research is on news media representation.

My proposed Masters thesis is "Information Communication Technologies in Socio-religious spaces". I guess that is sensitive too, cause it has religion in it. Maybe the "reasonable man on the street" may deem it risky and dangerous, as the research might undermine social harmony and public peace.

If studying people and society is going to be moderated by the unclear demands and expectations of the ethics review board, I am serious wondering what will happen to such research in Singapore.

Imagine you're a barber. Your client sits down and says, "Just cut it short". You say, "How short?". He says, "Anything, as long as it is short". You the barber will wonder how to best cut your client's hair. You snip a bit, he will get impatient and tell you, "Shorter!". You cut too much, he may snap, "That's not what I wanted!"

Researchers have to contend with the ethics review board, for without the latter's approval, you cannot do any research. But do researchers deserve this?

If I am doing participant observation in the field (field as in fieldwork), must I throw ethics board approved consent forms in the air like it is the hungry ghost month? What about covert research and observation, such as observing certain peoples in their "natural habitat" doing their rituals? Will the researcher have to take out a 4-8 page protocol and read out the rights of his subjects (of observation) and other protocols?

Research ethics is as important consideration. But its mechanical implementation and application by the institution make it a lot less sensible. Moreover, it's implementation in the Arts and Social Sciences faculty seems to be rather oriented towards the hard sciences.

My interview research, which consists of mainly 6 questions, is in my opinion now being treated as if I am drawing blood and tissue samples from my subjects. We seem to be on equal (un)ethical footing. The waiting time has gone beyond my own personal datelines. I actually made a decision that by Christmas, I shall forgo the interview part of my research if I didn't get any approval.

Research should not revolve around an institution, its working style and its agenda. I personally cannot tolerate my time and efforts being extorted, and my research focus being bullied by the unclear demands of the organisation.

Yes, I feel bullied and I feel victimised. I was supposed to get all my interviews done by mid-December and write 75% of my thesis by New Year. I am only at the 50% mark now, without interview data. This is the reality of research. Research is shaped by funding, the powers and agenda behind the funding, and other organisations with other concerns, such as the ethics review board.

Maybe I should do a study on the presence of ethics review boards in educational institutions. I wonder if my research will be approved by the ethics review board.


Miak said...


invite me to your wedding! *shameless*

Sam Ho said...

thanks haha.

it'll just be an ROM affair. nothing fancy. in fact, there are no plans to have a wedding dinner. at least not in a couple of years.

any way, we should meet for tea/coffee soon.