Individual exercises to help test your understanding and knowledge of key areas of text. Complete them to see your strengths and weaknesses.

In 1966–7, and as part of a study of homosexual behaviours in public spaces, Laud Humphreys acted as voyeuristic ‘lookout’ or ‘watch queen’ in public toilets (‘tea rooms’). As a ‘watch queen’ he observed homosexual acts, sometimes warning men engaged in those acts of the presence of intruders. In the course of his observations Humphreys recorded the car license plate numbers of the men who visited the ‘tea room’. He subsequently learnt their names and addresses by presenting himself as a market researcher and requesting information from ‘friendly policemen’ (Humphreys, 1970: 38). One year later, Humphreys had changed his appearance, dress and car and got a job as a member of a public health survey team. In that capacity he interviewed the homosexual men he had observed, pretending that they had been selected randomly for the health study. This latter deception was necessary to avoid the problems associated with the fact that most of the sampled population were married and secretive about their homosexual activity (Humphreys, 1970: 41). After the study, Humphreys destroyed the names and addresses of the men he had interviewed in order to protect their anonymity. His study was subsequently published as a major work on human sexual behaviour (Humphreys, 1970).

For discussion

  1. It might be said that Humphreys’ research in ‘tea rooms’ was a form of participant observation, a type of research which is often most successful when ‘subjects’ do not know they are being observed. Was it unethical for Humphreys to observe men engaged in homosexual acts in the ‘tea room’? Does the fact that the behaviour was occurring in a public place make a difference to your argument? Why?
  2. Was it ethical for Humphreys to seek and use name and address information – details that appear commonly in telephone books – from police officers who should not have released those details for non-official reasons? Would it have been acceptable if he had been able to acquire that same information without deceit?
  3. Upon completion of the research should Humphreys have advised those men who had been observed and interviewed that they had been used for the study? Why? Discuss the significance of your answer. Should only some research results be ‘returned’ to participants and not others? What criteria might one employ to make that determination? Why are those criteria (more) important (than others)?
  4. Should Humphreys have destroyed the name and address information he used? How do we know he was not making the whole story up? How can someone else replicate or corroborate his findings without that information?
  5. Humphreys’ work offered a major social scientific insight into male homosexual behaviours. It might be argued that his book Tearoom Trade contributed to growing public understanding of one group in the broader community. Moreover, no apparent harm was done to those people whose behaviour was observed. Do you think, then, that the ends may have justified the means?