Code of Ethics: Draft Principles One to Four – A Compilation

5 thoughts on “Code of Ethics: Draft Principles One to Four – A Compilation”

  1. Dear Ethics Task Force and Anthropology Community,

    Where is the depth? After having read the new principles and comparing it to older guidelines (in particular the PPR). I feel like all of the particularities which made the ethical guidelines for our discipline different from other guidelines such as the ASA (Association for Social Anthropologists), BSA (British Sociological Association) and the PSA (Politics Studies Association) were that there was a lot of substance to our guidelines.

    This code must go beyond the needs for American anthropologists. AAA is the largest organisation that serves and is composed of anthropologists from all over the world. The guidelines need to reflect the membership of the organisation.

    The name for the document is very apt though, what we have here is a “code”. It is short, convoluted and ambiguous. Not in its purpose though but in its contents. For younger anthropologists, more than a simple framework of principles is needed, there need to be guidelines.

    In regards to the section entitled “Do no harm”, I would like to raise some concerns. First, the title is unrealistic and does not reflect the research done in anthropology. Any research has the potentiality for harm, although the harm may not be physical, acute, or immediate does not mean that harm is not there. This section strikes me as something that is very useful and forward to a person that has been working in an anthropological context for some time but for people that are still undergraduates, new postgraduates from other disciplines they may not be aware of the social, environmental, political, and spiritual harm among others based on the geographic, cultural and specific substantive area of research interest. “Do no harm” is based on the principles of medicine as outlined by documents such as the Belmont Report and the Nuremburg Code and then adapted to almost all disciplines. By using this title, you are producing expectations that good research will be harmless which set up an unrealistic goal for researchers and members of this organisation.

    The focus should be on negotiating harm, alleviating it when possible but only conducting research when the benefits to the individual and group or community exceed the expected harms. There should also be guidelines for helping to identify latent consequences of your research and how to prepare oneself for the ethical quagmire that happens during fieldwork. It strikes me as odd that for our discipline, one that thrives so much on its ability to study things within context that how little attention is paid to the decisions that must be made in the field. Preparing is still a crucial step of anthropology, particularly when working in litigious nations, but obstacles will come up. How does one justify changes that must be made in methods/instruments? What if a gatekeeper prohibits access to a crucial informant? More practical questions that help to clarify the principles could be instrumental in further explaining the ethics of the organisation.

  2. Dear AAA members and Ethics Task Force,

    I would like to post a comment in relation to the third and fourth ‘Principles of the Code of Ethics’ as stated above. To be more precisely my comment will try to relate the third and the fourth principles of the ‘Code’ so that if we look to them separately, they seem fine, but in the time they are put together to conduct anthropological fieldwork, an inevitable contradiction emerges.

    I am talking about the relation between the idea of making one’s anthropological results ‘accessible’, which in turn is translated in the Ethics Code as ‘transparent’ stuffed by an ‘informed consent’ together with the ‘participants’; and at the same time of the ‘responsibilities of dissemination’ of this same results.

    That anthropological results have to be wide spread and be accessible one has no doubts. That anthropologists have to be careful to where and whom they are providing these information’s is also out of question. But how then one might divulge its results to be accessible to crescent number of people without exposing itself to risk?
    Risk is an ethical question, and anthropologists have to know if they are talking about the same risks that their subjects are worried. Does risk concerns only money? Risk is not avoided by written forms or because one is aware of its possible emergence. Risk is an integral part of anthropological research and it’s never fully transparent.

    Accessibility can’t be measured, limited or controlled. That, of course, doesn’t mean that anthropologists shouldn’t take precautions when publicizing their results. To the contrary, awareness is important to extend the notion of risk, covering its multiple significances, and not limiting possible movements. Disseminating research results is not a good and bad matter. It is either not a matter of intentionality. If it was, Ethics Codes will avoid almost all problems.

    How one can ‘expand understandings of lives, histories, cultures and communities’ without allowing multiple interpretations of this same research? Does the form anthropologists make their research accessible is really accessible, or is just the reflex of risk?

  3. Dear Ethics Task Force

    To begin, I find the title Do No Harm to be something to strive for, but the reality of the situation is more akin to Calculating Harm. While anthropologists preparing to go into the field put as much effort into reducing the amount of harm (mental & physical) to the people and culture being observed, the single anthropologist cannot account for unexpected occurrences once in the midst of field research. This process of Calculating Harm should obviously be something prepared prior to leaving for the field, yet decided upon with the people being observed once there. Calculating potential harm to a culture should be considered from the point of view of those being studied. I find it a bit ethnocentric to believe we can decide what is ethically right or wrong without discussion with the subjects.

    Regarding Balance competing ethical obligations due collaborators and affected parties, I believe that it should be stated that the anthropologist in the field must strive towards open communication between the people and culture being studied as well as the employers and funders. Without carefully analyzing this network of relations the anthropologist becomes a “middle-man” attempting to balance the needs and intentions on both sides of the spectrum. The communities and individuals being observed need to be aware of who you, the anthropologist, is reporting to and what limits of power you have. This way the people being observed will have a better image of this network. Furthermore, colleagues, employers, and funders will be able to gauge the effectiveness of the field work itself. I believe that by possibly opening communication between these two ends of the spectrum will the anthropologist be able to prepare for any ethical dilemmas that may arise. Though, this is not to say that the responsibility is disassociated from the anthropologist; they still should remain individually responsible for making ethical decisions in the field. However, I believe that establishing the network of relationships that accompany field work will help calculate harm.

    Regarding Balance the responsibility to disseminate with its potential consequences, once again to calculate harm regarding the dissemination of field data it should be stated early on with the subjects as well as employers and funders. “Explicit negotiation about dissemination and data access with sponsors/clients may be necessary before deciding whether to begin research” basically sums it up wonderfully. However, unless we can fully understand what perspective those being studied will see this as, the anthropologist is still making ethical decisions from an ethnocentric viewpoint, based around the expectations of themselves, funders and clients. The risks of disseminating some information should be openly discussed not only prior to conducting research but also as one of the first things brought up with the people and communities being studied. If there is any conflict with those being observed this can then be taken into consideration when disseminating and analysing data. I find it to be highly important that this is done early in the field work rather than after. This should be reflected in the code of ethics.

  4. I am also interested in the “Do no harm” concept. I would hate to see a certain kind of direct “harm” reduced to philosophy. There are real harms that have come to people through research. I do not feel it is the position of the social scientist or any other researcher to weigh out benefits to society versus direct harm to research subjects. I would compare the “millions will be saved” by the harming of some to the “ticking bomb” scenario of torture. They are hypothetical and unlikely to occur in real life. People who don’t have a personal sense of right and wrong in that regard shouldn’t be working with human subjects at all.

    Where I do think “harm” has to be dissected is in the area of those things that are potentially harmful – that is, where there is an uncertainty of what harm would constitute. I think the issue of consent can often overrride those things which are questionable in terms of informed consent. Focusing on informed consent – what kinds of information is the questioning/ethnography leading to, what they know could be done with that information, etc. helps people who are research subjects, collaborators, and interviewees make better decisions about what information they want to share (or not). The position of collaborators has to be considered.

    Another issue that comes to mind is the reporting of information about people/groups we didn’t interview via the statements of collaborators in the communities we work with. Is the harm issue only for those who were directly involved in the research process? What about secondarily reporting material, information about other people/groups etc. by collaborators who were involved in the research?

    Finally, it seems that while most of us have worked with individuals, communities, etc. on a smaller scale, but how is nation dealt with? Obviously many anthropologists work with communities that have national policies directed against them or are in some way disenfranchised. How much do we understand about political processes in those areas. To what extent is it the obligation of the researcher of understanding the broader context in which the research was done? How much should we know how the information we collect could be used by someone who does not have the same interests in mind?

    It seems that there is a point that should be a legal issue – people should not be harmed by research that they did not consent to. On the other hand, there is a personal point – one that has to do with researcher interests and the potential outcome of the research and our understanding – beyond direct harm – what harm really entails.

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