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research & ethics: tofu and dilemmas

For my research area I am planning to explore vegan food and wellness content on YouTube and related platforms. More specifically, the health advice and recommendations provided and the legitimacy of these claims and the environment it comes from. In order to put my past ideas into legitimate points, secondary academic research and considering ethical dilemmas is critical. 


Academic Research

As touched on very briefly in my last post, a paradigmatic theory is crucial to the analysis of this content and can change the approach it takes. A paradigm in this context is the lens you are using to look at what is going on around you (DeCarlo 2018). I have had issues connecting the best approach for my research as it has both rigid and fluid topics of discussion. While not traditional, I want to take a positivism and constructivism paradigmatic approach to my research. Positivism is the reality, while construction focuses on relativism (Aliyu et al 2014). It is important to look at the facts while still understanding the environment it lives in. 

There is a collection of papers researching veganism, but very little focusing on the community and the impacts of online content in this niche. Veganism is not for everyone and can have a lot more connotations other than improved health. It is a privilege to create wellness content, a lot of energy is spent judging people who diverge from a vegan lifestyle, instead of focusing on the systems that make such a lifestyle inaccessible for many people (Obrien p.70). The context of the influencer is important when looking at the health claims being made. With the influx of health guru, health information seekers must decide whether they should rely on health claims they encounter online (König & Jucks). Taking a factual and contextual approach seems the most appropriate in my eyes to undertake this research. 



As with any research being conducted there is a risk of ethical issues emerging, an autoethnographic study is no different. Traditional ethnography ethical practices can be simplified into three points (Ladner 2014 p.92):

  1. Do no harm.
  2. Be open and honest.
  3. Gain informed consent. 

Now, while I will not be having any ‘participants’, I will be referring to internet users across different platforms and pulling apart their content and backgrounds. Qualitative findings are quite detailed and will be presented in this instance as field notes, but there is an ethical area of how much information can be used. I aim to take as much emphasis off the influencers name, and more on their background and what they are preaching. 

The approach of dealing with both facts and the relativism of it all relies more on the practice by me than the information shared. The aim of using factual data is to eliminate my own subjective opinions, values, and biases (Lee 1991). However, by then connecting the facts with the contextual environment of the speaker and their background is when there is an opportunity for bias. Participatory observation then comes with a level of personal experience, so the ideal scenario is using the facts, aligning it with the influencer, and then how I personally felt as a viewer. 

There is already a lot of commentary and negative energy surrounding the wellness community (kind of ironic), so exploring this topic in itself is already an ethical dilemma. 


Aliyu, AA, Bello, MU, Kasim, R & Martin, D 2014, ‘Positivist and Non-Positivist Paradigm in Social Science Research: Conflicting Paradigms or Perfect Partners’, Journal of Management and Sustainability, vol. 4, no. 3, pp. 79–95, viewed 2 September 2020, <>.

DeCarlo, Mattew (2018) ‘6.2 Paradigms, theories, and how they shape a researcher’s approach’, Scientific Inquiry in Social Work, <>

König, L & Jucks, R n.d., ‘Effects of positive language and profession on trustworthiness and credibility in online health advice: Experimental study’, Journal of Medical Internet Research, vol. 22, no. 3, viewed 2 September 2020, <>.

Lee, AS 1991, ‘Integrating Positivist and Interpretive Approaches to Organizational Research’, Organization Science, vol. 2, no. 4, pp. 342–365, viewed 3 September 2020, <>.

O’Brien, E 2017, ‘Bad taste: The ignorance of internet veganism’, Voiceworks, no. 108, pp. 65–71, viewed 3 September 2020, <>.


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