4. Weigh Competing Ethical Obligations Due Collaborators and Affected Parties

Anthropologists must weigh competing ethical obligations((Joan Cassell, “Case 17: The Case of the Damaged Baby,” in Handbook on Ethical Issues in Anthropology, ed. Joan Cassell and Sue-Ellen Jacobs, Special Publication of the American Anthropological Association 23 (Washington, D.C.: American Anthropological Association, 1987).)) to research participants, students, professional colleagues, employers and funders, among others, while recognizing that obligations to research participants are usually primary.((

Joan Cassell, “Case 20: Power to the People,” in Handbook on Ethical Issues in Anthropology, ed. Joan Cassell and Sue-Ellen Jacobs, Special Publication of the American Anthropological Association 23 (Washington, D.C.: American Anthropological Association, 1987).))In doing so, obligations to vulnerable populations are particularly important. These varying relationships may create conflicting, competing or crosscutting ethical obligations, reflecting both the relative vulnerabilities of different individuals, communities or populations, asymmetries of power implicit in a range of relationships, and the differing ethical frameworks of collaborators representing other disciplines or areas of practice.

Anthropologists have an obligation to distinguish the different kinds of interdependencies and collaborations their work involves, and to consider the real and potential ethical dimensions of these diverse and sometimes contradictory relationships, which may be different in character and may change over time. When conflicts between ethical standards or expectations arise, anthropologists need to make explicit their ethical obligations, and develop an ethical approach in consultation with those concerned.

Anthropologists must often make difficult decisions among competing ethical obligations while recognizing their obligation to do no harm. Anthropologists must not agree to conditions which inappropriately change the purpose, focus, or intended outcomes of their research. Anthropologists remain individually responsible for making ethical decisions.

Collaborations may be defined and understood quite differently by the various participants. The scope of collaboration, rights and responsibilities of the various parties, and issues of data access and representation, credit, acknowledgment and should be openly and fairly established at the outset.((

Concerns Before You Start

When you begin considering an employment opportunity, there are a few documents to carefully review before agreeing to become an employee. First, most organizations will have an employment contract, personnel manual or some type of document that governs the relationship between the employee and the organization. Read this document(s) carefully. It usually spells out the conditions of employment, the employer’s responsibilities and the employee’s responsibilities. In these documents you should also find rights and responsibilities about data and publications. This is where you need to be clear about ownership of data, what is considered data, who has the right to review publications and final clearance on documents for distribution. If you believe that the terms are inappropriate, you should speak directly to the employer about your concerns. Be aware however, that the employer does not have to change their position; these documents have been carefully developed and reviewed by a variety of professional resources. In some situations, you may find these documents can be modified and it is an opportunity to help to educate the employer about your concerns and the issues raised by this code of ethics. You may be able to negotiate terms that you find appropriate based on this code of ethics. In any case, it will be up to you to work with the employer to modify the terms of employment. If you review these documents carefully before becoming an employee, you will be fully informed and can then make a considered decision about whether to accept an offer of employment.

If you are applying for a grant or contract there will be language in the application forms that spells out the rights and responsibilities of the funder and the grantee/contractor. These documents should be carefully reviewed so that you are clear about the conditions of award that you will agree to if your proposal is successful and you accept the grant or contract. If there are conditions which are contrary to the principles in this code, you can bring it to the attention of the funder and attempt to negotiate appropriate language in the grant or contract. However, the funder has in most cases carefully considered their requirements, has obtained professional reviews and believes that the terms and conditions best serve their needs. You may find that many funders, particularly foundations are eager to have their work disseminated and you find willing partners. At the same time you may find that some funders place restrictions on how you may use the data collected and who controls review of reports or articles submitted for publication. It is your responsibility to carefully review the terms and conditions of the grant or contract award before you sign the document.

As examples, the full citation for FAR: 52.227-14 Rights in Data—General is provided in order to give the reader a clear understanding of the completeness and detail that becomes incorporated into an federal RFP or contract concerning “Rights in Data.” A second document provides examples of contract and grant language regarding Rights in Data from a Non-profit organization and a foundation. These last two examples represent actual contract/grant language.))

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Supporting Resources

American Psychological Association. 2010. “Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct.” (3.05 Multiple Relations; 3.06 Conflict of Interest; 3.08 Exploitative Relationships.)

Council for International Organizations of Medical Sciences. 2002. International Ethical Guidelines for Biomedical Research Involving Human Subjects. Geneva: CIOMS.

International Society of Ethnobiology. 2008. “International Society of Ethnobiology Code of Ethics.”

National Association of Social Workers. 2008. “Code of Ethics.” (1.01 Commitment to Clients; 1.02 Self Determination; 1.06 Conflicts of Interest; 3.09 Commitments to Employers.)

National Association for the Practice of Anthropology. 1988. “Ethical Guidelines.”

National Institutes of Health. N.d. “Regulations, Policies, and Guidance: Ethical Guidelines and Regulations.”

Society for Applied Anthropology. N.d. “Ethical and Professional Responsibilities.”