Protecting Patients—Managing Persons


  • Susanne Langer Cardiff University



This paper is based on my experience of applying for ethics approval from two different Local Research Ethics Committees (LRECs) in the context of fieldwork with people suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS) in the Manchester area. I argue that LRECs are a form of audit intended to remove relationships from the decision process and to change practice. By focusing on the category of ‘informed consent’ and how it is conceptually and bureaucratically constructed, I analyse the ways in which ethics committees are able to preserve the notion of individual choice while at the same time defining its parameters. In so doing, ethics committees interfere with the efforts of people, such as the ones I worked with, to become productive in culturally-specific ways, for instance by being involved in research. I conclude by reflecting on how the removal of the relational dimension of research through bureaucratic technologies, such as ethics committees, affects anthropologists.

Author Biography

Susanne Langer, Cardiff University

Susanne Langer completed her PhD in Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester in autumn 2004. She conducted fieldwork in the northwest of England with a group of chronically ill people and their families and friends. Her thesis explores the ways personhood, productivity and ideas about normality become entangled and entwined in people’s lives. Susanne is also interested in theories of value, ideas about health and healing, anthropological approaches to the study of bureaucracy, and methodology in qualitative research. She is currently turning her thesis into papers and presentations and can be contacted at susanne.langer(AT)