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A Message from the Task Force for Comprehensive Ethics Review

This is a special message to AAA Members from the Task Force for Comprehensive Ethics Review. To view previous draft principles and additional information on this review process, please visit the Ethics Task Force blog page.

Dear AAA Member:

Over the past year and a half, the Task Force for Comprehensive Ethics Review, pursuant to a charge put forward by the Executive Board, has been undertaking a thorough review of our association’s Code of Ethics [you can see the original charge here].

REVIEW
The task force began their work in early 2009 by creating a survey which was disseminated to the entire membership. The survey was meant to be both a broad examination of perceptions of codes of ethics in general – what they should do, what they cannot do – and an assessment of opinions about the AAA code of ethics and its specific content. We wanted to know if and how the membership used the code in practice and in teaching, and if there were ways to make the code more relevant to our work.

At the same time, task force members began consulting with other sections of the AAA as well as organizations outside the AAA, and we also began a comprehensive review of the codes of ethics of these other organizations.  We used all of this information, along with the results of the survey, to inform the agenda for our first face to face meeting in September of 2009.  We created several workgroups to focus on the major concepts or issues of practice which we saw as central to our code of ethics; the task of these workgroups was to make clear all the dimensions of these issues so that we would have a simultaneously clear and nuanced picture. The workgroups examined relevant resources from a broad range of sources, as well as soliciting cases from anthropologists which helped contextualize the concepts with which we were working. Throughout the process, we continuously connected our work back to the current code of ethics.

We have continued soliciting comments and feedback from the membership through, for instance, columns in Anthropology News and through roundtable events at the AAA annual meetings of 2008, 2009, and 2010.  These included specific roundtables to address student concerns and section/committee concerns. 

REFORMULATION
As our review process continues, we are asking for your help as we begin to think about revisions to our current code. As we’ve noted previously, our decision to reformulate the current code isn’t meant to imply that the current code is necessarily deficient. We do think, however, that any effective and meaningful code needs to be periodically revised and restated to keep current with the ways in which ethical issues, however timeless, are encountered, discussed and debated in the field.  Our intent has not been to suggest a completely new code that will stand without further revision, but to make the current code more immediately relevant. We hope and expect that it will be revisited and revised again on a regular basis, not just in the event of a disciplinary crisis, and always with member input in the revision process.

OUTREACH
We believe that there is value in presenting many of the same ideas in different ways.  Doing so helps anthropologists of all kinds focus in on core concepts and problems.  To that end, we are seeking to identify from both the current code and the earlier Principles of Professional Responsibility broad statements or principles applicable to all anthropologists.  We are asking for your help in doing so, and are actively soliciting input from AAA members on several suggested “draft principles” presented over the past several months (available for viewing on this blog).  This is a reminder to you to take a look at the drafts and provide feedback. This is an important process and your involvement is critical to its success.
 
PROCESS
Principles are being released one at a time for several reasons.  First and foremost is to allow members to focus on each individual principle in turn; we hope to encourage deliberate and substantive discussion on the merits of each as a meaningful and relevant principle on its own. Second, the work of the Task Force itself is ongoing, with additional meetings and discussions scheduled throughout the remainder of the year.  Finally, this is part of an iterative process in which ongoing discussion by the membership will determine both how each draft principle should be revised and how many additional principles may be needed to adequately address the concerns identified from discussion by the membership.  The result should be a series of carefully vetted and debated principles, each able to stand alone, which can then be reviewed, revised and discussed as a whole by the AAA membership to ensure that the complete document adequately and coherently addresses all key areas and concerns. 

INVOLVEMENT
Every member of the AAA has the opportunity to be involved in this process of review and revision of our code of ethics, and we urge you to make use of that opportunity.
We thank you for your support thus far, and welcome your continued participation.
 
Sincerely,
 
The Task Force for Comprehensive Ethics Review

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