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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.

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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 CompetenceSociological 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: IntegrityTo 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 ResponsibilitySociological 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 DiversitySociological research focuses on humans and society, thus requires immense care and concern for the rights of human beings. Objectivity and non-biased practices in all endeavors are the goals for the fourth principle in the ASA Code of Ethics. You may not have thought about the rights of individuals in research. Most of us think of the Miranda code we have heard so many times on detective dramas..

.you have the right to remain silent and so on. Well, participants in research have rights, too, and this principle ensures that sociological researchers respect those rights and protect the dignity of the people they are studying.Principle E: Social ResponsibilitySocial responsibility in the field of sociological research refers to the notion that professionals must contribute to the common good for the profession and for society at large. This idea is a bit more abstract. Imagine a giant bowl of delicious chocolate frosting.

We have a line of chefs coming along, one by one, and adding ingredients to help create the world’s best chocolate frosting for all people to share and enjoy.The first chef might add sugar. The next could drop in some butter. The third may pour in some chocolate.

What if the fourth chef in line added vinegar? The frosting would be ruined! That chef would not have acted socially responsibly because he ruined the chocolate frosting for everyone! Sociological researchers must make sure to improve the knowledge base for the betterment of society and its people.

Lesson Summary

Sociological research investigates human beings and the societies in which they live. This research helps us understand things about society and human behavior. Professionals who conduct sociological research must adhere to a strict code of ethics to prevent misuse and harm. Ethical behavior is essential in protecting people and contributing to the collective knowledge base.The American Sociological Association (ASA) is the organization that governs sociological research.

They publish the ASA Code of Ethics to make sure that sociological researchers act with professional and ethical conduct. This code consists of a preamble along with five ethical principles to guide and support sociological research:

  • Principle A: Professional Competence
  • Principle B: Integrity
  • Principle C: Professional and Scientific Responsibility
  • Principle D: Respect for People’s Rights, Dignity, and Diversity
  • Principle E: Social Responsibility

Learning Outcomes

After reviewing this lesson, you will be able to:

  • Recall the importance of sociological research and of researchers displaying ethical behavior
  • Identify the organization that governs sociological research
  • Describe the preamble and the five ethical principles of the ASA Code of Ethics

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