Below you’ll find the principles that have previously been posted on this blog. As we continue working on others, we’ll keep posting them to the blog and soliciting your comments, but we wanted to circle back and post these four, as a group, and again ask for your help in reviewing and refining these.
We read your comments and suggestions, and value your views and concerns, and are using them to revisit, review and revise the text on an ongoing basis. We have posted a comment under Principle 1 addressing the concerns that were brought up in member responses to that principle. As we noted there, we consider this an on-going dialogue.
We look forward to hearing from you.
-The Task Force for Comprehensive Ethics Review
Do no harm
Anthropologists share a primary ethical obligation to avoid doing harm to the lives, communities or environments they study or that may be impacted by their work. This includes not only the avoidance of direct and immediate harm but implies an obligation to weigh carefully the future consequences and impacts of an anthropologist’s work on others. This primary obligation can supersede the goal of seeking new knowledge and can lead to decisions not to undertake or to discontinue a project. Avoidance of harm is a primary ethical obligation, but determining harms and their avoidance in any given situation may be complex.
While anthropologists welcome work benefiting others or increasing the well-being of individuals or communities, determinations regarding what is in the best interests of others or what kinds of efforts are appropriate to increase well-being are complex and value-laden and should reflect sustained discussion with those concerned. Such work should reflect deliberate and thoughtful consideration of both potential unintended consequences and long-term impacts on individuals, communities, identities, tangible and intangible heritage and environments.
Balance competing ethical obligations due collaborators and affected parties
Anthropology is an inherently social enterprise, whether in terms of teaching, inquiry, or professional practice.
Anthropologists develop collaborative and often interdependent relationships with, among others, research participants, students, professional colleagues, employers and funders.
These varying relationships may create conflicting, competing or crosscutting ethical obligations, reflecting both the relative vulnerabilities of different individuals, communities or populations, asymmetries of power implicit in a range of relationships, and the differing ethical frameworks of collaborators representing other disciplines or areas of practice.
Anthropologists have an obligation to distinguish the different kinds of interdependencies and collaborations their work involves, and to consider the real and potential ethical dimensions of these diverse and sometimes contradictory relationships, which may be different in character or change over time. When conflicts between ethical standards or expectations arise, anthropologists should make explicit their ethical obligations, and negotiate an ethical approach. Recognizing that anthropologists work in diverse settings and that research projects are shaped by anthropologists and their collaborators, nevertheless anthropologists remain individually responsible for making ethical decisions.
Collaborations may be defined and understood quite differently by the various participants. The scope of collaboration, rights of the various parties, and issues of credit, acknowledgment and data access should be openly and fairly established at the outset. Collaborations normally involve compromise, and anthropologists must be sensitive to relationships of power and whether such compromise is freely given.
Be open and honest regarding your work. Make your results accessible.
Anthropologists should be clear and open regarding the purpose, methods, outcomes, and sponsors of their work. Anthropologists must also be prepared to acknowledge and disclose to participants and collaborators all tangible and intangible interests that have, or may reasonably be perceived to have, an impact on their work.
Transparency, like informed consent, is a process that involves both making principled decisions prior to beginning the research and encouraging participation, engagement, and open debate throughout its course. Achieving transparency should not conflict with the primary obligation to avoid harm to the individuals, communities, environments, or resources being studied.
In general the results of anthropological research should be made freely available, except in cases where restricted dissemination serves to protect the confidentiality, privacy, safety, and/or dignity of participants, and/or protect cultural heritage or tangible or intangible cultural or intellectual property. Dissemination of the results of anthropological research to the participants is expected; however, when sharing results with participants is deemed to be inappropriate the reasons must be clearly explained as part of the consent process so that all involved are aware of any reasonable limitations prior to consent.
Research that by design does not allow the anthropologist to know the full scope or purpose of a project (i.e. compartmentalized research ) is ethically problematic, since by definition the anthropologist cannot communicate transparently with participants, nor ensure fully informed consent. Researchers who mislead participants about the nature of the research and/or its sponsors; who omit significant information that might bear on a participant’s decision to engage in the research; or who otherwise engage in clandestine or secretive research that manipulates or deceives research participants about the sponsorship, purpose, goals or implications of the research, are not fulfilling basic requirements for openness, honesty, transparency and fully informed consent.
Balance the responsibility to disseminate with its potential consequences
The results of anthropological research are complex, subject to multiple interpretations and susceptible to differing and unintended uses. Anthropologists conduct research in order to expand our understanding of lives, histories, cultures, and communities. Thus a general goal is communication of new knowledge in a timely fashion. However, anthropologists have an ethical obligation to consider the potential impact of both their research and the communication or dissemination of the results of their research. Anthropologists should consider this issue prior to beginning research and throughout the research process. Explicit negotiation about dissemination and data access with sponsors/clients may be necessary before deciding whether to begin research.
Anthropologists should not normally withhold research results from research participants when those results are shared with others. There are circumstances, however, where restrictions on disclosure may be appropriate and ethical, such as where participants have been fully informed and have freely agreed to limited dissemination. In some situations other kinds of limited dissemination may be appropriate where such restrictions will protect the safety, dignity, or privacy of participants; or protect cultural heritage and/or tangible or intangible cultural or intellectual property. Proprietary, classified or other research with limited distribution raises complex ethical questions which must be resolved using these ethical principles. Anthropologists must weigh the intended uses of their research and work to evaluate potential uses of their research and the impact of its dissemination now and in the future.
Limited dissemination poses significant risks. There may be equally great risks associated with dissemination itself. Once information is disseminated, even in a limited sphere, there is great likelihood that it will become widely available. Thus, anthropologists should consider situations where preventing dissemination may be the most ethical step.