This article focuses attention on an underexamined issue in the literature on educational research ethics: how ethical authority is established in educational research. We address this from a perspective that disrupts naturalised approaches to ethics, arguing that rather than seeking ‘rights’ or ‘wrongs’, researchers are always tasked with constructing ethical stances. Attention can then be placed on the array of embodied and objectified resources that might be recruited in establishing these. Through an engagement with published academic accounts of ethical reflection and decision-making, the article explores the ways that educational researchers achieve or sometimes question their ethical security in respect of their research activity. The analysis we present draws out the referential strategies that constitute ethical subjectivity and maps the diversity of anchoring points that might be recruited in this action. We also draw attention to the process of recontextualisation that is inevitable when one activity (or aspect of an activity) regards another, introducing necessary incoherence into ethical practice. The case we present celebrates rather than seeking to conceal or repair such disruption.