Ethical Research Practice or Undue Influence? Symbolic Power in Community- and Individual-Level Informed Consent Processes in Community-Based Participatory Research in Swaziland

Michelle Brear

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


In community-based participatory research (CBPR), community-level consent is assumed to enhance ethical rigor, when obtained prior to individual informed consent. However, community leaders’ permission to conduct research may influence individuals’ agency to decline participation. This article presents findings of a Bourdieusian analysis of ethnographic data documenting CBPR in rural Swaziland. The findings reveal that the “symbolic power” of leaders who provide community-level consent constrains individual agency and reproduces existing relations of power, if individual informed consent is simply a procedure. However, when informed consent is a process that introduces notions of autonomy and rights, it can disrupt power relations. Implications for ethical CBPR practice, and ethnography’s value for developing theory from real-world research ethics practice, are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)311-322
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2018


  • CBPR
  • community consent
  • ethnographic research
  • symbolic power
  • voluntary informed consent

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