What Is the Purpose of the American Sociological Association Code of Ethics?

by Jessica Hoffman

The American Sociological Association, or ASA, is the major national association for sociologists in the academia and in the field. Founded in 1905, it serves academics, professors, researchers, practicing sociologists, students and members in NGOs, government bodies, and other institutions. Meant to promote the discipline and support exchange of ideas and research, it holds over 14,000 members and also serves in implementing programs for scholars that will further the discipline. Sociology is a discipline of the social sciences, and is the scientific study of various aspects of human society. This includes social interaction, socio-cultural behavior, social class structure, and more. It can range from individual behavior to macro-level investigation of institutional or community behavior and function.

Sociologists and the Code of Ethics

Sociologists may work in a university of research institute, or in organizations, such as NGOs, analyzing community structure and behavior for better program implementation, for example. Sociological practice and research is based on close contact, usually through observation or extensive interviews with the subjects of the studies, guidelines have been set into place by the American Sociological Association. These guidelines set an ethical standard of practice and guarantee the publication of truthful, unbiased findings.

The Code of Ethics

The ASA's code of ethics establish a standard guideline for sociological practice and conduct. It includes an Introduction, five principles, and the specific Ethical Standards. The code also presents guidelines for dealing with unethical conduct in sociological practice. Membership to the ASA implies adherence to this code, and sociologists are often required to sign this code of ethics within their respective institutions.

The General Principles of the ASA's Code of Ethics

Sociological study

Broadly, the five principles of the code include guidelines for professional competence, outlining how sociological practitioners must strive to the highest level of work, remain humble in their expertise and acknowledge their limitations, only embarking in research they are qualified for, through training and education. Sociologists must strive to the highest level of integrity, and must remain honest in their research and in their professional activities. They must not engage in activities that are harmful for others, for their research, or for the discipline. Professional and scientific responsibilities include adherence to the high scientific standards of the discipline, and respecting the work of other sociologists despite potential theoretical disagreements. Sociologists must respect the rights and dignity of all cultures, peoples or societies. They must be aware of their scientific responsibility to the communities and societies in which they live and work, and publicly disseminate their unbiased findings.

Conclusion: why ethics?

Working in communities

These codes are set into place, not only in the United States, but worldwide. They are disseminated and standardized internationally so as to guarantee that the discipline on the whole remains as scientifically honest as possible, but most of all, they exist so as to avoid harm or abuse of the research subject by the scholar. "Harm" or "abuse" of a subject through research can include negative publications of a particular social group due to a researcher's personal bias. It can also include invasive research practices in a very private social or cultural group, where a scholar or researcher may not respect the social practices of beliefs of a community. These codes, which must be signed and understood, ensure an ethical research practice by sociologists worldwide.

About the Author

Jessica Hoffman is an art critic and social scholar. She is currently preparing a book on outsider art, and completing a Ph.D in the social sciences, focusing on critical cultural theory and indigenous issues.

Photo Credits

  • Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images