Sociologists, both in the United States and internationally, have a code of ethics under which they carry out research, publish their research findings and structure their research. Because sociologists study different societies and human interactions, and their research findings impact governments, educators, planners and those working to resolve social issues, working within a specified code of ethics ensures the findings will benefit society at large.
The Code of Ethics for both the American and International Sociological Associations govern the principals and standards of conduct by which all sociologists operate in their work. Sociologists are expected to use these standards, relying on them for ethical guidance. However, the Code of Ethics was written with flexibility in mind––if a particular conduct is not addressed in the document, that does not make that action unethical––or ethical, necessarily.
Rules and Conduct
The ASA Code of Ethics spells out enforceable rules detailing sociological conduct. Because sociologists perform in many roles, the ethical standards vary, depending on the situation. The Preamble of the ASA Code of Ethics communicates a set of values under which every sociologist is expected to function. These values were written to address the various situations they encounter, primarily to protect the welfare of the groups and individuals a sociologist works with. As stated in the ASA Code of Ethics, each sociologist is expected to make a “personal commitment” to acting ethically and encouraging ethical behavior in those the sociologist works with. Each sociologist is also expected to supplement the Code of Ethics’ values and rules based on “personal values, culture, and experience."
The American Sociological Association spells out five principles: in the first––professional competence––sociologists are expected to stay up to date in their work. Sociologists are to work on tasks for which they have education, experience and training; they should take classes to maintain professional competence and recognize the limitations of their expertise; the second principle of integrity outlines the expectation that sociologists are “honest, fair and respectful of others in their professional activities”; the third––professional and scientific responsibility––addresses the need for the sociologist to work within the “highest scientific and professional standards,” accepting responsibility for their work; the fourth––respecting peoples’ rights, dignity and diversity––outlines the need for the sociologist to eliminate bias in professional activities. In addition, he should not tolerate discrimination of any kind; the fifth––social responsibility––expects the sociologist to maintain awareness of their professional and scientific responsibility to every community and society where they live and work.
Impact on the Field
Ethics impacts sociology as it lays out a codified set of expectations by which all sociologists operate. Although individual sociologists who join either the American Sociological Association or the International Sociological Association are expected to work within the framework of the Code of Ethics, they have the professional freedom to interpret the principles “in good faith.” Further, each sociologist supplements the Code of Ethics based on his own personal values, experience and culture; he also supplements the standards outlined in the document.