Data protection in qualitative research

Kaspar, Heidi; Müller-Böker, Ulrike (2006). Data protection in qualitative research In: Müller-Böker, Ulrike; Backhaus, Norman (eds.) Gesellschaft und Raum. Konzepte und Kategorien. Schriftenreihe Humangeographie: Vol. 22 (pp. 125-142). Zurich: Geographisches Institut Abteilung Humangeographie Universität Zürich

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The debate on data protection has so far been confined to institutions that collect and archive data in great quantities (see Corti et al., 2000; ESDS, 2004a; ESDS, 2004b; BstatG, 1992). In a globalised and increasingly networked (referring to geography, disciplines and institutions) scientific community (Parry and Mauthner, 2004: 140; Bishop, 2005: 335), data protection becomes more and more important. Previously, data from research was considered the property of the researchers. Nowadays, data sets are increasingly shared within the scientific community (Parry and Mauthner, 2004: 140). This development has two implications: the question of the ownership of scientific data has to be addressed afresh and data protection becomes ever more important. Data protection 127 Whereas, in quantitative research, archiving data is usually viewed as rather unproblematic (see e.g. BstatG, 1992), data protection has aroused controversy and debate in the qualitative research community (Parry and Mauthner, 2004: 140). The reason for this debate lies in the very nature of qualitative research. As Parry and Mauthner (2004: 141) state, “the construction of qualitative data is a joint endeavour between respondent and researcher” and therefore “both parties should retain authorship/ownership rights over the data” (Parry and Mauthner, 2004: 141). However, data protection cannot be confined to the archiving of data but has to be considered in every social research project that collects and/or analyses data. This article covers some crucial issues of data protection for social research. Its particular aim is to emphasise the importance of data protection as a necessity to preserve scientific standards. We argue that data protection is an integral part of social research and therefore has to be included in the design of research projects. Besides general and theoretical considerations, the article gives practical advice for rendering data sets anonymous, which is the main procedure in data protection. The comments are accompanied by examples drawn mainly from the research practice of the Division of Human Geography of the University of Zurich’s Department of Geography.

Item Type:

Book Section (Book Chapter)


School of Health Professions
School of Health Professions > Institute for Participatory Health Care


Kaspar, Heidi0000-0002-1668-5855;
Müller-Böker, Ulrike;
Müller-Böker, Ulrike and
Backhaus, Norman


G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > G Geography (General)
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GF Human ecology. Anthropogeography




Schriftenreihe Humangeographie


Geographisches Institut Abteilung Humangeographie Universität Zürich




Heidi Kaspar

Date Deposited:

10 May 2021 14:52

Last Modified:

11 Jun 2021 11:36

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