Ethical Concerns in Sociological Research

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  • 0:01 What is Sociological Research?
  • 1:14 Ethical Guidelines
  • 1:41 ASA Code of Ethics
  • 5:51 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Dana Dance-Schissel

Dana teaches social sciences at the college level and English and psychology at the high school level. She has master's degrees in applied, clinical and community psychology.

Research that seeks to understand the behaviors and practices within human society is called sociological research. This lesson will explore potential ethical concerns and the standards for sociological research. We will finish with a quiz to test your knowledge.

What is Sociological Research?

Have you ever wondered how we know things about human behavior and society? We learn about patterns of behavior through sociological research. For example, let's say that we wanted to study the differences between male and female work behaviors in America.

What kinds of things would we want to look at? Well, we would probably examine basic things such as average numbers of hours worked, places of employment by gender, and pay rates. Research like this would likely show us many differences between male and female employees in the United States. How would we know if we were doing it correctly? What if we accidentally harmed someone in the process or reported made-up data? Likely, our research would be deemed unethical!

Sociologists study the way human beings behave in the world. Sociological research examines patterns of behavior within societies. Any research involving human beings requires a unique sensitivity and awareness to prevent misuse and harm. Therefore, professionals within the field of sociology must adhere to a strict code of ethics.

Ethical Guidelines

The American Sociological Association (ASA), the governing body for sociologists, sets forth ethical guidelines for sociological research. These standards are called the ASA Code of Ethics, and they govern conduct and practices for professionals in the field of sociology. These guidelines consist of a preamble and five principles for ethical conduct in sociological research.

ASA Code of Ethics

The Preamble of the ASA Code of Ethics lays the foundation for ethical behavior in sociological practice, teaching, and research. The overall mission of the ethical code is to protect the welfare of human beings. In other words, social scientists cannot investigate things with reckless abandon as if they were mad scientists! Look at how the fictional Frankenstein turned out! Dr. Frankenstein clearly did not follow any code of ethics and was not concerned with public safety.

The General Principles that govern the ASA Code of Ethics serve as behavioral and practical guidelines for professionals within the field of sociology. There are five ethical principles to consider when conducting sociological research:

Principle A: Professional Competence

Sociological researchers must strive for the highest level of competence in all work. In other words, professionals in the field of sociology must make sure that they are highly skilled and well-trained in their area of study. Think of it this way: we would not want to ask our taxi driver to perform brain surgery for us because he probably is not skilled in that area. Similarly, individuals who perform sociological research must be highly trained in the theories and concepts that they are studying. This prevents errors and mistakes.

Principle B: Integrity

To act with integrity means to be honest and respectful in all practices. Therefore, researchers in sociology must always seek authentic and unbiased information. Further, all participants in sociological research must be treated fairly and in a way that would not be considered harmful. Let's revisit the brain surgery example for this one. Let's assume that our taxi driver lied and said he was a brain surgeon! That would be dishonest and most certainly illegal. Furthermore, the taxi driver would not demonstrate integrity if he falsified his level of training.

Principle C: Professional and Scientific Responsibility

Sociological research requires respectful and responsible practice on all fronts. This means that researchers in the field must respect participants, coworkers, and the public at large. In addition, care must be taken to be aware of and adhere to all codes for conduct.

Principle D: Respect for People's Rights, Dignity, and Diversity

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