This paper was published as Clinical Ethics, 2009, 4 (4), pp. 187-194. It is available from http://ce.rsmjournals.com/cgi/content/abstract/4/4/187. Doi: 10.1258/ce.2009.009027Metadata only entryEthical review of applications to conduct research projects continues to be a focus of scrutiny and controversy. We argue that attention to the actual practices of ethical review has the potential to inform debate. We explore how research ethics committees (RECs) establish their position and authority through the texts they use in their correspondence with applicants. Using a discursive analysis applied to 260 letters, we identify four positions of particular interest: RECs positioned as disinterested and responsible; as representing the interests of potential participants; as facilitating ethically sound, high-quality research; and as engaged in dialogue. These positions are used strategically to deflect criticism or complaint. This analysis has implications for reducing contestation between researchers and RECs, suggesting that more dialogic rather than hierarchical approaches to positioning might be helpful
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