SQIP Ethics Task Force Working Page to Respond to the Seating of the Ethics Code Task Force (ECTF)

SQIP Ethics Task Force Working Page to Respond to Seating of ECTF

Call for the seating of a new Ethics Code Task Force (“ECTF”) that will be charged with drafting a new ethics code

The call:

The Ethics Committee seeks information from APA Divisions concerning their views on the current Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct (the “Ethics Code” or “Code”) and their vision of future needs for psychology. The Ethics Committee is gathering the information in preparation for the seating of a new Ethics Code Task Force (“ECTF”) that will be charged with drafting a new ethics code. The ultimate goal is to create a new Ethics Code that, rather than a revision of the current Code, is visionary and transformational and becomes a leading resource regarding psychological ethics. The Ethics Committee’s plan is to release a Call for Nominations in May in order to seat the new ECTF by fall and have one face-to-face meeting of the new ECTF prior to the end of 2017.

The Ethics Committee respectfully requests that divisions submit information concerning the following questions to Daisy Clipper at dclipper@apa.org by Friday, April 7th.

Society for Qualitative Inquiry in Psychology (SQIP) Ethics Task Force Response

Members: Monique Guishard, Alexis Halkovic, Peiwei Li, Anne Galletta


In July 2015, the Society of Qualitative Inquiry in Psychology (SQIP) Ethics Task Force was forged to fundamentally develop proposals from SQIP to APA, in order to propose amendments to the APA Ethics Code, both specific and general. The specific amendments would involve research methodology issues, particularly in Standards: 1. Resolving Ethical Issues, 3. Human Relations, and 8. Research and Publication. More generally, we shared a sense of urgency around the need to propose revisions that would address issues of social justice, transgressive research relationships, accountability, transparency, and power, post-Hoffman. Given the charge and focus of this Task Force, our responses to the call of ECTF will focus more exclusively in the area of research related ethics.

 1) What aspects of the current Ethics Code do you believe work well for psychologists and protection of the public?

The five general principles (beneficence and nonmaleficence, fidelity and responsibility, integrity, justice, and respect) are helpful as a set of overarching ethical guidelines in holistically examining a specific context and facilitating ethical decision making. The five principles help to facilitate researchers’ and practitioners’ ability to make decisions affecting their research and care communities, moving beyond delineated or prescriptive procedures that would otherwise mask the complexity and challenges of determining ethics conducts in a specific context. [FW1] The principles are a necessary supplement to the rather prescriptive codes under Standard 8 Research and Publication, which focus on behaviors and procedures instead of a larger conceptual framework of ethical decision making.

As guiding principles for establishing an ethical attitude (Josselson, 2007) towards psychological research, the five general principles provide a foundation to help guide researchers who encounter ambiguous or complicated questions based on relational aspects of research (particularly qualitative research, longitudinal research, and participatory action research which require considerably more long-term and in-depth interaction between researcher and researched). We envision ways that the general principles might be more meaningfully articulated to be inclusive of various guiding epistemologies (e.g., participatory action research, critical, feminist, indigenous, and liberation methodologies) and to develop language informed by epistemologies other than the current emphasis on positivist/postpositivism (and the emphasis on the dichotomy and hierarchy between expert and subject). In this way, the guiding principles might address the diverse epistemologies and methodologies used in vast arenas of psychological research. We explicate this concern in the following comments.

 2) What would you like to change regarding the current Ethics Code?

Identity and scope

The new Code may benefit from a larger conceptual capacity to better reflect the breadth and diverging systems/disciplines of psychology, which has continued to expand since the establishment of the current code. The challenge for the new Code development would be perhaps to embrace a dialectical conceptual framework that honors both the unity and divergence of psychology and psychologists. There is potential to extend the current code to recognize diverse communities of psychologists, representing constructivist and interpretivist, critical science, indigenous, womanist and feminist standpoints and so on.

Incorporating recognition of those philosophical traditions outside of the experimental cannon of psychology may make the new Code conceptually more inclusive and thus potentially more powerful to supply ethical principles and guidance that may transcend complex and diverging contexts of psychological practices. For example, the new Code can encourage psychologists to deliberate on the ways in which the principles of beneficence and nonmaleficence may be understood differently outside of an individual-based framework by also including considerations regarding the community and collective interests, as well as factoring in how complex power relations and the history of oppression may exert effects on benefits and harm. In other words, the new Code can inspire a more critical approach to ethics that embraces complexity, nuances, awareness and reflexivity.

The new Code will need to be further refined and even reconstructed in terms of its scope and relationships among overarching ethical principles and domain specific applications. For example, experimental and professional psychology both have a clear demarcation between them. They have unique needs of ethical considerations and regulations (e.g. ethics surrounding an experimental research context versus an ongoing therapeutic relationship), and yet there are guiding principles that are applicable to both (e.g. beneficence and nonmaleficence). The current Code does attend to both principles and specific applications like this but further distinctions/relationships can be made systematically and nuanced, and again with a broader conceptualization that better reflects the current breadth of psychology.

In a metaphoric sense, it might be helpful to conceptualize the new Code as multiple horizons and parallel sub-horizons, and allow structural flexibility for easy ongoing amendment and revision. For example, one horizon could be multiple functional domains of psychological practices such as research, professional services, advocacy and so on. An intersecting horizon could delineate the diverging nature of communities that psychologists engage with, ranging from the most marginalized communities to the most privileged communities. Each intersection between function and community would lead to a specific location, context, relationship, and historical moment, and thus demand nuanced perspectives on ethics. The new Code may include a visual representation that can help to illustrate a more holistic and complex conceptual structure of the Code.

Moral principles

The new Code should make a clearer stance on banning psychologists from human rights violations (e.g. torture) and to revisit the relationship between the Ethics Code and the law. For instance, the Code can be strengthened to address ethical conduct and concerns regarding individual psychologists and larger psychological collectives such as the circumstances surrounding the Hoffman Report. This also means that the new Code should have a capacity for reflexivity, that is, it should be able to apply itself to the unethical and unlawful conduct within the profession. This simultaneously makes a call more explicitly for reflexivity on the part of all psychologists. In this way the new Code can invite self-reflection of the profession as a whole and allow self-critique of inherent power dynamics and inequality within the profession (e.g., the under-representation of psychologists of color; the suppression of voices on the fringe/margins within psychology). It is with the willingness and ability to engage in self-reflection, psychology can increasingly become a critical voice to facilitate larger societal and systemic changes.

The current political climate also highlights the responsibilities of psychologists in the realm of political discourse, policy, and advocacy in relation to the public interest. The new Code should have a capacity to address the intersection between psychological knowledge/practices and the social and political conditions under which the former are produced and utilized. This means extending the language of the new Code so it does not only center upon the post-positivist epistemological stance that often equates political motives and engagement (e.g., political activism and civic engagement) automatically as biased perspectives. Instead, the new Code can incorporate language that is also compatible with intersubjective, feminist and critical orientations, which foreground the internal connection between knowledge production and the interests of social betterment. In this way, psychological knowledge never stands outside of its social, cultural, historical, and political conditions and contexts.

To make this conceptual shift can better position the profession to take an advocacy role towards public good and positive social changes. It would encourage psychologists to mindfully integrate their social responsibilities as citizens with their professional roles. Taking all this in would help to add another layer of complexity to ethics. In fact, making the paradigmatic shift from a post-positivist cannon to a pluralist opening has provided vitality to many other fields of social sciences such as anthropology, sociology, political sciences, and education. Psychology can also seek the opportunity of revising the Ethics Code to revive psychology’s identity in this area.

Similarly, the professional as a whole can benefit from adopting a more unified stance toward social justice, which is amplified in some subdomains of psychology but hasn’t been endorsed evenly across psychology. For example, clinical/counseling psychology and community psychology have increasingly absorbed the value of social justice in their respective professional identities. Various psychology research communities that practice critical ethnography, critical participatory action research, and community-based research have also been on the cutting edge for this work. Psychology as a whole may seek the momentum and clearly and explicitly affirm psychologists’ commitment and responsibility to address all forms of injustice and structural inequality (e.g. racism, sexism, classism, able-bodism, ageism, heterosexism, cisgenderism, scientism, nativism, fundamentalism etc.).

In like manner, the new Code can better infuse multicultural competence concerns throughout its structure. (e.g., in areas of therapy, research, assessment and more). For instance, the ethical use of psychological assessments and research instruments should include a multicultural awareness of how the use of those tools had historically and could still be biased against people of color and the poor. Likewise, researchers, evaluators and consultants need to equip themselves with multicultural competence to practice the use of inclusive language, to develop awareness of power dynamics with the participants and their community contexts, as well as ongoing self-reflection to check biases and undue effects of power and privilege of the researcher. In addition, multicultural competence in therapy can continue to improve as well. Excellent alternative conceptualizations of multicultural competence have been published (e.g., Alberta & Wood, 2009; Hannush, 2007) that focus on relational processes toward understanding the other as an alternative to rote memorization of overgeneralized facts about cultures that ultimately serve to perpetuate and uphold stereotypes. Although the emphases in multicultural competence have been increasingly embraced by various psychological communities, it could be better reflected and amplified in the new Code.


There are a range of practices among members of the APA about the extent to which researchers engage in forms of detachment or close proximity, from their subjectivities and their relationships with their participants. These practices are rooted in epistemological and axiological decisions; they carry a range of ethical commitments and provoke ethical quandaries the current Code is silent on (Boser, 2007; Denzin & Giardini, 2016; Galletta, Guishard, & Li, 2016; Guishard, 2015;Tolman & Brydon-Miller, 2001). As qualitative researchers, we recommend the Ethics Code be more inclusive in its discussion of ethics, particularly, for research that attends to relational closeness and an interpretive undertakings between the researcher and participant. The later is informed by rigorous, systematic engagement with those who possess a deeply grounded knowledge, of the topic of study, offering what feminist Sandra Harding (1992) refers to as “strong objectivity.” While Standard 3, Human Relations, discusses the ways in which relational situations can impair “objectivity,” revisions to the Code might offer the benefits of research intended to establish and sustain relationships between those close to the phenomenon of interest — participants with researchers, as well as researchers with community co-researchers. The Code might consider detachment and distance as a reflexive exercise through which the researcher examines ethical dilemmas faced in the research.

Principle A (Beneficence and Nonmaleficence) and Principle E (Respect for People’s Rights and Dignity) offer psychologists in practice and research core ethical principles. However, in research, these principles foreground research participants as vulnerable and in need of protection. Undoubtedly, these principles speak to a history of unethical practices in biomedical and experimental psychological research. At the same time, without nuance, contextualization, and an analysis of asymmetrical power relations operating within the research enterprise, Principles A and E can become paternalistic and impose unnecessary and, at times, inappropriate protections. However, these principles do not address the unanticipated ways in which participants may be made vulnerable through forms of data collection, analysis, representation in texts, and the impact of study implications on communities of interest. As noted by Leisey’s work in narrative research, “Commonly, the presumption is that all research participants require protection, that all power resides within the researcher, and that risk is defined similarly by all involved” (Leisey, 2008, p. 421). Alternatively, there is also a need to assess when participants reflect positions of social privilege, possibly requiring methodological procedures to address the influence of elites in the phases of data collection and analysis, and in particular in the public engagement of study findings.

In its current prescriptive and procedural ethics manifestations, the Code, alongside the existing structure and mandates of IRBs, have the potential to stifle marginalized research efforts, especially research that uses methodologies such as participatory action research, community based research, and critical ethnography (Denzin & Giardini, 2016; Galletta, Guishard, Li, 2016). We suggest shifting away from a largely procedure-based conceptualization of research ethics, rooted in one epistemological position and move toward a more conceptual understanding that embraces complexity and inclusivity. This would form a sharp contrast to the prototypical image of psychological research as solely an experimental science supported by assumed objectivity, granting almost exclusive authority and power to the researcher and specific methods. Without such a conceptual shift, the Ethics Code falls short of meaningfully underscoring issues related to unequal and harmful power dynamics inherent in the research relationship in general regardless of forms of research and methodologies.

More specifically, the Ethics Code can better acknowledge and address researcher-participant relations where expertise is not the sole property of the researcher. The current Code reflects a relationship of regulation and compliance, it lacks understanding of qualitative methodologies, principlism (King, Henderson, & Stein, 1999) and is reflective of a biomedical and post-positivist research stance. Such conceptualization is narrow and not sufficiently inclusive of the diversity in epistemology and methodology of the psychological research community. In fact, even the notion of “objectivity” as emphasized in a post-positivist epistemology stance and associated experimental oriented approaches has been challenged in the broader social science communities (e.g. Carspecken, 1996; Peshkin,1988), including psychology (Walsh, Teo & Baydala, 2014). A more inclusive conceptualization of the research process that foregrounds its relational nature has the potential to broaden the current scope of the ethics code. This also strengthens the identity of psychology and allows psychology to become more congruent with its values for transformation and advocacy.

In addition, the consideration of benefit and harm should not only extend to individuals but also communities. It should consider the ethics of posing research questions that are harmful in the assumptions shaping the question (Teo, 2011), as well as in ways interpretations are made which could commit epistemological violence (Teo, 2008, 2010 & 2011). Benefit and harm can be understood in a more complex manner and in a more iterative way. For example, considering the ethics of representation – how we write about our participants and their contexts and how we frame their narratives (Fine, Weis, Weseen, & Wong, 2000) and how we exercise interpretive authority (Josselson, 2007), ethical dilemmas that are inevitable in all forms of research and not just qualitative research. The notion of risk should not only be at the individual level but also consider collective risk. In addition to individual autonomy, collective agency should also be considered (Guishard et al., 2005). Participatory researchers understand it is naive to assume that they are the most knowledgeable regarding risk and safeguards (Guishard et al., 2005). This comment points to a larger conceptual issue of the current Code: how can we shift from a largely individual-focused understanding of ethics to a relational, collective, and ecological one?

The Code places the onus of achieving or approximating beneficence and nonmaleficence on the individual psychologist. It does not address how a psychologist might assess what constitutes beneficence and nonmaleficence. The application of individual moral commitment appears to be the basis for ensuring no harm. This conceptualization is extended in Principle B: Fidelity and Responsibility. In the current code, the guidance suggests consultation with others, and the language of “communities” is included. However, the language implies the communities are anchored in the profession and within institutions associated with the profession of psychology. There is little consideration of consultation and expertise as offered by the participants, or by an advisory group comprised of members of the community of interest, and/or communities whose relationship to the research topic is integral (Sirin & Fine, 2009). There is a need to underscore expertise as not the sole possession of the psychologist but as present among research participants and communities of interest for one’s research topic. This would increase the likelihood that benefit and harm, risk, and conflict might be accessible to the researcher’s awareness, which may suffer blindspots.

Furthermore, the informed consent standard (8.02 and 8.03) might be the opening for exploring and reworking basic understandings in terms of the role of the researcher; relationship to participants; values inherent in methodology; with the use of “process consent” (Smyth & Murray, 2000), in which informed consent is viewed as “an ongoing, mutually negotiated and developed activity” (Hays & Singh, 2012, p. 81). At the same time there is need for ongoing examination of such “negotiation” processes as potentially shallow and absent of attention to power differentials. For example, the previous guidance on control of data views data as solely in the possession of the researcher. In this manner, data is “protected” (tied to confidentiality requirements) and must be destroyed after a period of time. There is no consideration of ownership of data by a community or other collaborating partners or a co-constructing community of participants (Guishard, 2017). We can eliminate all paternalistic language in describing the nature of research, and the roles of both researchers and research participants. Additionally, the requirement of data destruction creates obstacles for qualitative researchers who may return to the research focus, extend it, and/or engage the data in further study (Josselson, 2007).

3) What gaps, if any, do you believe exist in the scope or coverage of the current Ethics Code?

The current Ethics Code gives insufficient attention to the continuum of involvement of the participant in the research endeavor. The Code positions the research participant as an individual to whom ethical practices are directed, which does not address greater degrees of research participant engagement in the research process. Critical, feminist, indigenous, and liberation-oriented practitioners need for the Code to speak to and offer guidance on ethical commitments and methodologies of co-construction of the research design and the conducting of the research. This includes but is not limited to social constructivism, interpretivism, phenomenology, ethnography, critical science, action research, intuitive inquiry, and participatory action research. Additionally, because the assumed relationship between researcher and those researched is one of expert in relation to non-expert, the task of knowledge production remains the prerogative of the researcher. This set of assumed relations presents a gap in ethical guidance for researchers operating outside the assumed relations of detachment from participants (Josselson, 2007).). As a result, the current statements on consent, confidentiality, data storage, authorship, and reporting back, as covered under Standard 8: Research and Publication, offer little substantive ethical guidance to those psychologists working outside the post-positivist interpretive framework.

4) How have you managed/addressed these gaps to date?

Communities of psychologists and transdisciplinary communities of university researchers and community members sharing interests in particular research aims and topics engage in deliberation around ethical and epistemological commitments. For example, the Public Science Project, affiliated with the City University of New York Graduate Center, offers training and critical participatory action research institutes. During the research institutes, resources are provided for addressing ethical dilemmas in participatory action research. Sample consent forms and strategies for approaching one’s Institutional Review Board are examples of activities that provide guidance. Resources and tools might accompany the Code as part of APA’s effort to educate and support researchers. The Society for Qualitative Inquiry in Psychology (SQIP), part of APA’s Division 5, engages its members in discussions of ethics as it relates to qualitative research. SQIP has a task force focused on ethics, and its members are represented in the writing of these comments. SQIP’s annual conference and its journal, Qualitative Psychology, offer a venue for pursuing ethical guidance through conference sessions and communication throughout the year.

The literature on reflexivity as a resource for psychologists is very helpful. Speaking from a transdisciplinary position, for those collaborating on critical participatory action research, recent work by Elizabeth Drame and Decoteau Irby on three levels of reflexivity is very helpful, extending work by Lai Fong Chiu (2006) and Ruth Nicholls (2009). Transparent self-reflexivity involves an examination of how a project’s origins and assumptions guide its design, collective membership, and funding. Interpersonal reflexivity interrogates positionalities and the nature of relationships within and beyond the collective. Collective reflexivity engages those associated with a project with understanding the ways in which the project neared goals of transformation or cathartic validity and the ways in which it reproduced social and material relations (Drame & Irby, 2016, pp. 4-5).

5) What future trends in psychology do you believe a new ECTF should consider in drafting a new Ethics Code? (Examples might include use of technology in research and practice, integrated health care, diversity issues, the internationalization of psychology and others.)

The new ECTF should consider the critiques of individualized, western, and White-privileged conceptualizations of risk, which too often discount third party and community risk/stigma (Carrese & Rhodes, 1995; Flicker, Travers, Guta, McDonald, & Meagher, 2007; Maiter, Simich, Jacobson, & Wise, 2006; Ryan, 2004; Thomas, 2009). It should consider guidance developed by indigenous peoples, such as the Australian Indigenous Psychologists Association (2009). The ECTF should review legal cases, such as the case between the Havasupai Nation and University of Arizona’s Board of Regents on misrepresentation of study purpose and issues related to consent (Sterling, 2011). In terms of the competence of APA researchers, the ECTF could secure APA funding for resources focused on training in these areas.

6) What do you consider important functions that the new Ethics Code should accomplish? (Examples might include to be a resource for psychologists concerning ethical behavior, provide a foundation for licensing boards to discipline psychologists, provide guidance on ethical decision-making, and others.)

Because Standard 8.01 concerns institutional approval, there is conflation of APA Ethical Standards with the Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects (“Common Rule”) 45 CFR part 46. Given this, the ECTF should examine the recently changed Common Rule, effective January 2018, for its facilitation as well as its obstruction of research conducted by psychologists considering the breadth and diverging systems/disciplines of psychology.

The ECTF should seek the opportunity to closely track the recent changes of federal regulations on IRB and consider the ramifications for the new code. The intent would be to address areas where ethical issues remain (informed consent for further use of human specimens) and where unnecessary barriers for psychological research have been removed under the newly written/revised regulations for social scientists (Jaschik, 2017, January 19). As low impact or “exempt” psychological research would not require an IRB, there is room here for the new Code to provide guidance on ethical decision-making and some form of gatekeeping function that is based on principles and not on procedure. Notably, the classification of research as “exempt” effectively excludes various forms of research from the realm of research, which both forecloses the necessary opportunity to provide ethical guidance and disallows the use of research-related funding for non-traditional forms of research (including those that recognize community members as co-researchers). The scope of understanding of psychological research as well as the associated ethical implications needs to be expanded to include research that has historically been marginalized (e.g., participatory action research).


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