We are hopeful that you had the opportunity to read the e-mail that was just sent to the membership and which provides the background to the work of the Task Force (If you have not yet received the email, you can find it here). Here, on this blog, will now begin the process of presenting the draft principles.
In asking whether the American Anthropological Association needs a new Code of Ethics, we reflected on what it is that a Code is supposed to do for its members. One purpose is to state clearly that anthropologists are responsible for engaging in an on-going process of ethical thinking and practice that grapples with dilemmas that necessarily emerge in conducting research and other aspects of our professional lives. Another is to assist faculty members and their students in teaching and learning about ethical dimensions and laying foundations on which anthropologists can continue to build throughout their careers. A third is to be of real value to anthropologists in the actual contexts in which they make ethical decisions. Finally, this framework must be flexible enough to adapt to diverse circumstances and adjust to the wide range of contexts of anthropological practices, while providing core principles informing ethical practice in real-world situations.
Our sense is that a new Code can more squarely address the third and fourth challenges, but only if seen as one resource among many. No code or set of principles or guidelines can anticipate every unique circumstance of practice, nor dictate direct actions in specific situations; instead the core principles presented here are meant to provide a preliminary place to start the ethical decision-making process. Persons using the Code as a guideline are encouraged to seek out additional resources to help make manifest the principles in the code, including examples of the sorts of problems that anthropologists currently face and discussions as to how to approach them; such examples will eventually be available through the AAA Website. This Code of Ethical Practice affirms that anthropologists are responsible for making carefully considered ethical choices and are prepared to make clear the assumptions, facts and issues on which those choices are based.
These distinct ends have dictated the structure of this draft Code. The core principles found here can be readily recalled and applied in a continuum of research and practice contexts that extends from the initial planning stages in which there is ample time to anticipate ethical dimensions, to those in which on-the-spot decisions must be made in the course of ongoing projects. The Code also discusses the underlying values and beliefs on which the principles are based as a means of helping foster the vital process of critical thinking about ethical issues in general, and constructing an ethical framework that addresses the specific challenges that are likely to emerge in a particular research project or other pursuit.
We do not address the issues of sanctions or enforcement; a wide range of opinions on such issues are held not only by the members of the Association but by members of the task force as well. Regardless of viewpoint, however, the members of the task force agreed that a workable and appropriate code must be established before determining how it may be implemented or enforced.
When reading through the postings, please keep in mind: rather than incorporating all of the complexities and areas of concern — as well as all the unique concerns and situations particular to a given subdiscipline or context of anthropological practice — into a single document, we have sought to identify broad principles applicable to all anthropologists, principles which will be supported by layers of additional resources–explanatory text, examples from different contexts or areas of practice, case studies, and resources from other disciplines.
As you read through our blog postings over the next several months, please:
- carefully read each principle as it is posted to the blog, paying attention to the content and thinking about its relevance to your practice
- make relevant comments and suggestions on the blog site in a timely manner. Feel free to share personal stories, case examples, competing interpretations, etc.
- pay attention to the ongoing conversations about the principles and do background reading if you are late to join the discussion of a particular topic.
After all the principles have been posted, please let us know your thoughts about the document as a whole.
Thank you for being part of this important discussion.
–The Task Force
Here is the principle for your 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.