Studying Sociology GCSE and Sociology A Level: 11: Ethical Issues in Sociological Research


Here is the 11th in our series of study blogs for those studying A level Sociology and GCSE Sociology.

Ethical Issues in Sociological Research

In recent blogs, we have talked about some of the ethical issues in sociological research, but let’s look at them a bit more. Ethics in research looks at what is morally acceptable. When a sociologist plans to carry out some research, they need to consider whether it follows ethical guidelines.

Ethical guidelines are written codes of conduct that are designed to help sociologists when they plan and design their research. The guidelines set the standards that should be adhered to and outline what is and isn’t acceptable.

Ethical guidelines are not the same as ethical issues. Ethical issues are situations that can arise when guidelines are not adhered to. Let’s look at some examples.

Examples

Ethical Guidelines

Ethical Issues

Consent

An ethical guideline might be that all participants have to give informed consent. This would mean that the sociologist would have to explain to participants what the research was about and what taking part would involve. Participants would also be told that they had the right not to give consent or to withdraw their consent at any time. An ethical issue would arise if a researcher did not fully explain their research to participants (meaning they did not have informed consent), or if a researcher used results when consent had beenwithdrawn.

Anonymity

Participants in research should not be identified by name or in any other way in any articles or books about the research. An ethical issue would arise if a participant were to be identified in some way e.g. by a photograph or by name.

Confidentiality

All participants’ information should be kept confidential. An ethical issue would arise if this information were not kept confidential.

Can you see the difference between ethical issues and ethical guidelines?

Observation

Other issues that can occur in sociological research involve how we observe people. As we mentioned in earlier blogs, observations can be carried out overtly or covertly. When a researcher observes people overtly they are fully aware what is going on, so they have informed consent, confidentiality and so on.

But what if the sociologist is observing them covertly? They can’t give informed consent and they are not able to withdraw their consent, so there are ethical dilemmas here.

This is the final blog for the moment on research methods, before we move onto another topic. We hope you have found this useful.

Tracey Jones

Tutor

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