HSP3M Grade 11 Anthropology – Ethics in Sociology

Section 6.3—Ethical Issues in Sociology

Ethical Guidelines in Sociology

  • ethical guidelines were created to help sociologists carry out their research professionally, and with integrity and honesty in order to minimise harm
  • ethical guidelines help sociologists make ethical judgements about their research and their research subjects
  • for their work to be valid, sociologists must demonstrate that they have followed the guidelines when they set up and carried out their research
  • the guidelines view the sociological research design and way it is used to be just as important as the proper treatment in the research subjects


Ethical Guidelines in Research

  • the International Sociological Association’s Code of Ethics provide specific guidelines to direct research:
    • sociologists are expected to cooperate on the basis of scientific correctness alone (no discrimination of age, sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, language, religion, political views)
    • group work, cooperation, and mutual exchanges among sociologists are necessary for sociology to achieve its ends (sociologists should discuss their work and the works of others among themselves)
    • sociologists should be aware their assumptions may have an impact on society (need to have unbiased view)
    • sociologists should act with a view to maintain the image and the integrity of their own discipline (don’t abandon critical approaches toward fundamental assumptions)


Ethical Guidelines for Research Subjects

  • ethical guidelines help protect research subjects—sociologists must behave appropriately toward the people and groups they’re studying
  • informed consent is important—research subjects should know who the sociologist is, their qualifications, sponsor of the experiment, and research goals
    • there are some cases where deception is necessary, in which then the institution carrying out the research must weigh the value of the research to the risks of the subjects
  • Canadian Sociological Association has guidelines for how sociologists should work with their research subjects:
    • sociologists enter into personal and moral relationships with those they study, and therefore must respect the rights and be concerned with the welfare of everyone affected by their work
    • researchers must not exploit individuals/groups for personal gain and must recognize the debt incurred to the communities in which they work
    • researchers must respect the rights of citizens to privacy, confidentiality, anonymity, and the right of not being studied (protection of subjects does not excise researchers of the responsibility of exposing physical, mental, sexual or other abuse)
    • researchers shouldn’t misuse their positions for fraudulent purposes or as a pretext for gathering intelligence for any organization/government
      • research doesn’t further the power of states, institutions, and corporations over the lives of people)
    • research must be released to the public, unless doing so would put research subjects in danger


Sociology is Inclusive

  • discrimination is the act of treating groups/individuals unfairly based on a common characteristic that they share
  • when studying society, care should be taken not to exclude or overlook issues of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual identity or age in any discussion about social behaviour
  • sociologists should extend their research to investigate marginalized groups that may be subject to discriminatory acts
  • sociologists should ensure the avoiding of bias in their research—avoid making comparisons that cause harm


What Is Old Is New Again

  • society is constantly changing—what was once popular can become outdates (especially in these technology times)
  • in terms of sociological statistics, some statistical information can quickly become outdated
  • in sociology, the underlying issues may remain unchanged, but the attitudes toward the unchanging issues may have changed
  • sociologists should retest an old hypothesis and revisit old studies to discover what’s new or what’s changed
    • however, sociologists shouldn’t revisit a questionable study if the methods and ethics involved are questionable


The Clark Doll Experiment in 1939

  • Dr. Kenneth Clark and wife conducted a study about the racial biases among children in the USA, during the time when some schools in America were segregated by race
  • the experiment tested young black kids to determine how race related to their self-image
  • the experiment involved showing each child a white doll and a black doll, and giving instructions to the child in a particular order; the Clarks did this study on both children in segregated and non-segregated schools, and compared the results between the 2 groups
  • the research involved a series of questions in this order, in which a white skinned and black skinned doll were placed in front of the young black kids:
    • show me the doll you like best/you’d like to play with
    • show me the doll that is the “nice” doll
    • show me the doll that looks “bad”
    • give me the doll that looks like a “white child”
    • give me the doll that looks like a “coloured child”
    • give me the doll that looks like a “Negro”
    • give me the doll that looks like you
  • in most of the cases, the last question caused anxiety among the subjects—many of the kids chose the white doll as the “nice” one, so by the last question, they were obviously anxious (some cried and ran away)
  • in a related task, Kenneth Clark asked the kids to draw a picture of them self—most chose a lighter shade than their actual skin tone
  • Clark Doll studies found that children attending segregated schools more likely to pick the white doll as “nice”
  • Clarks concluded that children internalized racism caused by the discrimination that occurred through segregation
    • this conclusion was presented in the US Supreme Court which ruled segregation was unconstitutional
  • some believe that Clarks were motivated by their own bias in wanting to prove that black kids internalized racism from segregated schools


  • CNN Doll Experiment occurred in 2010, in which Anderson Cooper repeated the experiment
  • the experiment involved both white and black kids from various areas in New York and Georgia, and the kids belonged to 2 age groups (4-5 and 9-10)
  • instead of dolls, the experiment presented students with 5 illustrations of a child, ranging from white to brown to black
  • the research involved asking the kids a series of 22 questions, asking the child to point to which picture was the smart, dumb, nice, mean, good, bad, good looking, and ugly child in the pictures
  • the results showed many of the white kids had high rates of white bias (they identified their own skin colour with positive attributes and dark skin colours with negative ones)
    • 76% of the older white kids selected the 2 darker shades as being dumb and 66% chose the 2 darkest shades as mean
  • the results also showed the black children tended to describe their own skin colour with positive attributes
  • there were also many children from both races and age groups that refused to answer specific questions, saying they didn’t know enough about the illustration to answer the question


Challenges of Class in Sociology

  • sociologists are interested in the impact of crime, outcomes for kids, and mental health on neighbourhoods and communities
  • an individual’s involvement in their community can be measured by their social happiness and lifestyle
  • sociologists study the organization, practices, changes, and problems in an urban area, and then make suggestions for policy changes
  • a person’s neighbourhood can indicate their education, income, and even health
    • people sometimes define themselves by the neighbourhood the live in/grew up in
  • individuals can be defined by other people based on where they live—sometimes, people make assumptions about other people based on their address
  • neighbourhoods change all the time—it’s important for sociologists to study how people actually live and not base conclusions on outdated information
    • it’s also important that sociologists don’t generalize current information to individuals
  • sociologists continuously conduct studies about the places in which people live—these studies have the potential to create a emotional response due to neighbourhoodism (idea that one neighbourhood can be generalized based on a few statistics/studies)
    • sociologists have to be careful in their research, as the home is a person’s safe refuge from the outside world, and sociologists can inadvertently say/do something to upset residents of a neighbourhood


The Invasion-Succession Model

  • when people are looking for a new home, they begin with an idea of where they would like to live, and then consider what features they would like to have in their neighbourhood
    • ex: a young couple may choose a neighbourhood with an active nightlife
  • a symbolic interactionist would say people see themselves reflected in the neighbourhood
  • a popular theory used by sociologists to study the inner workings of a neighbourhood
  • according to the theory, a neighbourhood is like a biological ecosystem, and the residents are the native species of the ecosystem
  • because of personal buying decisions/trends, neighbourhoods begin to take on a homogeneous appearance (all the inhabitants resemble one another in the areas of family structure and socio-economic status)
    • when members of the species move away, this creates vacancies for new groups to move in; interestingly, sociologists have realized that when “second species” move in to a homogeneous neighbourhood, the original species made room for them and the 2 species coexisted peacefully
    • however, when a third species entered, the status of the third group was quite clearly subordinate to the second group
      • in the end, the first and second species exerted pressure on the third group to assimilate and be absorbed into the daily life of the neighbourhood; in some cases, the 3rd group was driven out, while in other cases the 3rd group changed the neighbourhood so much, the original group moved
  • neighbourhoods are more likely to lose a visible minority group rather than the loss of whites—for example, more than 50% of neighbourhoods that consisted of groups of UK/French origin, Europeans and Asians had changed so that only UK/French origin and Europeans only existed


Demographic Studies and Sociology

  • demography is a separate field from sociology, and it studies the statistical structure and development of human populations
    • demography and sociology have a lot in common
  • demography creates an important source of information to sociologists to show how a society’s population is living
    • governments and independent researchers are interested in this kind of data
  • urban concentration/population density is an important theme for demographers—the increase in the number of people in urban areas was a large part of the development of urban sociology
  • aging is another concern for sociologists, who consider the effects on social attitudes and behaviours that may occur among the elderly
  • demographers and sociologists both rely on statistical information
  • in a recent decision, the government of Canada decided to eliminate the mandatory census in favour of an optional census (the periodic count of population including information such as sex, age, education, and occupation)
    • in a census, information about a specific population is gathered and recorded
    • in Canada, a census is issued every 5 years
    • many groups like sociologists and demographers rely on census information; without the census, valuable information about society is lost



  • census is important for carrying out ethical and accurate research—it provides intimate glimpses into neighbourhoods and households and creates a huge archive of information that sociologists can examine to compare how society has changed/stayed the same
  • by making the census voluntary, it can undermine the quality/accuracy of data and make it impossible for sociologists to draw solid conclusions between the past and present
  • census information affects how programs and policies are funded (ex: library services are dependent on the income, language, and education levels of the neighbourhood), as well as they building of new homes and schools
  • census also provides information about whether current programs/policies are working and effective
  • census information is valid, accurate, and objective because trained statisticians/demographers know how to draw samples that are representative of the population
    • once census information is provided voluntarily instead of mandatorily, some people would be more likely to complete the census than other people, providing inaccurate stats for use in studies


Danger of Value Judgements

  • sociologists must not apply value judgements to social issues, as the primary goal for sociologists is to report without bias and as accurately as possible
  • sociologists may have to redefine simple terms to encompass a wider range of meaning than usual
    • as long as the researcher has clear definitions and adheres to the definitions provided, the research may be less value based
      • ex: when conducting a study on the future of the Canadian family, a sociologist must define the term family (ex: nuclear family, same sex family, common low family etc.)
  • sociologists must try to suspend their values and beliefs, especially in research that involves their beliefs


Health and Sociology

  • the definition of health is complicated, as it’s socially constructed (ex: not all health issues are equally important in various countries—liposuction is considered a health necessity in some nations but not others)
  • health is culturally constructed as it begins with socialization—depending on a person’s family and culture, certain conditions are labelled important health issues while others aren’t considered important (ex: malnutrition  is an important illness, but many North Americans don’t consider it to be a big issue because they aren’t affected by it)
    • in Asian cultures, a great deal of important is placed on herbal remedies and acupuncture, while in North America these are considered alternatives to modern medicine
  • sociologists must define health carefully to their research subjects, as they could unintentionally exclude large groups of people with different views of healthcare
  • main factors that shape the health of Canadians aren’t medical treatments/lifestyle choices, but instead living conditions (income, education, unemployment status, housing, disability, gender, Aboriginal status)


The Sick Neighbourhood

  • sociologists encounter socio-economic disparities about poverty and health
    • ex: in a Toronto study, most of Toronto’s poorest residents live near industries that emit high levels of toxins
      • study showed a correlation between poverty and pollution


Ethics of Racial Profiling

  • racial discrimination is an issue related to power and the inability for some segments of society to have equal access to what society offers
  • racial profiling has its roots in law enforcement and criminal behaviour
  • deviance is behaviour that contradicts cultural norms (including breaking laws), and sociologists try to understand how this behaviour is dealt with
    • sociologists believe social control influence behaviour constantly because they are internalized and come into play every time a person has a deviant impulse (social control theory argues that defiance is a matter of failed social controls)
  • crime is an act that violates the norms of the social group (the law)
  • racial profiling is especially hurtful to the communities labelled for their alleged criminal activity—the assumption is that certain ethnic groups are more involved in criminal activities, resulting in more scrutiny from law enforcement
  • pro/cons for collecting data based on race


For Race Based Data Against Race Based Data
  • collecting this kind of info provides transparency of police actions to the public
  • the data may eliminate/reduce some forms of racially biased policing
  • being aware of the data could help improve minority perceptions in police practices
  • the data could help reduce racial disparities in arrests and in other stats
  • addressing racial profiling issues could improve minority recruitment in the police force
  • the data could compromise security and public safety as it leads to stereotypes
  • data could easily be misinterpreted
  • collecting it is too expensive; $ could be better used
  • data is difficult to collect property
  • the data could increase the number of civil claims as those falsely charged may sue police
  • members of races which are believed no to be criminals are more likely to get away with crime



Communication Technology and Sociology 

  • technological changes has increased, thus impacting our lives, especially socially
  • technology can connect and divide people of the world
  • although technology can help facilitate communication, countries can use their power to control the content and flow of communication (ex: Egypt cut off all computer and telephone communications in Egypt when Egyptians began mass protests in 2011)
  • criminal activity can be created from electronic devices (cell phone), such as cyber bullying


Video Surveillance

  • there is no evidence that proves the effectiveness of surveillance equipment
  • operators of these cameras have limited training in the social implications on those who have their images captured, and the role of stereotypes, prejudice, and bias in the operator’s work
  • research shows there is no accountability structures in place to address potential problems (including racial profiling and sexual voyeurism)—accountability was entirely with he camera operator
    • ex: since 9/11, camera operators watch Middle Eastern people more carefully because the operators feel these people are dangerous
  • video surveillance involves some groups to be disproportionally monitored by camera operators


Social Networking

  • people choose what information they share online, which in theory allows them to choose the amount of surveillance they’re subjected to
  • people are increasingly being defined by their online profiles—employers search the identity of their workers and online profiles can determine whether an individual gets hired or not
  • police have also used YouTube to solve crimes by posting surveillance footage
  • social networking sites can also be used to make political/social changes


Visual Sociology and YouTube

  • visual sociology combines the traditional methods of sociology with new and emerging technology in order to take a “snapshot” of society
  • ex: the “Life in a Day” project between YouTube and director Ridley Scott is a feature documentary that was created from scenes filmed by anyone with access to video-making equipment
    • participants were invited to film something of their day on Saturday July 24, 2010
      • pieced together, the film is a time capsule of one particular day and how different people experienced the day in different ways