Ethics are a set of concepts and principles that guide social behavior. To avoid cultural and religious bias or judgment, society uses shared ethical ideologies as guides in reasoning ethical issues. Ethical life emerges from the human capacity and cognitive ability to comprehend the effect of helping or harming others (Paul and Elder 2005).
People enforce ethics through communication and social interactions. Through socialization and cultural teachings, society nurtures ethical behaviors and social expectations using positive and negative re-enforcement. Ethical decisions require critical evaluation and analysis of thinking, motivation, and consequences. Individuals must become proficient at reflection to assess and make sound ethical decisions.
“Human nature has a strong tendency toward egotism, prejudice, self-justification, and self-deception” (Paul and Elder 2005:2). People can never eliminate egocentric tendencies but combat them as they evolve into ethical persons. The achievement of ethical reasoning requires doing what is right regardless of selfish desire. Obtaining ethical reasoning requires the deliberate practice and development of fair-mindedness, honesty, integrity, self-knowledge, and concern for others.
Applying Ethical Principles in Sociological Practice
The code of ethics establishes the social norms of acceptable and unacceptable conduct and behavior (Bruhn and Rebach 2007). All professional companies and organizations have rules and policies on ethical conduct and behaviors encouraged internally within the organization and externally when working with outside constituents or clientele. In the workplace, the code of ethics includes procedures for filing, investigating, and resolving complaints that violate the ethical principles and standards outlined by the organization (Bruhn and Rebach 2007).
Professional associations comprised of members within a specific profession like sociology also have ethical codes of conduct establishing the expectations of professionals working within the field or discipline. The American Sociological Association (ASA) has published guidelines outlining the principles and standards that sociologists must adhere to in professional activities. The six guiding principles enforce: 1) professional competence, 2) integrity, 3) professional and scientific responsibility, 4) respect for people’s rights, dignity, and diversity, 5) social responsibility, and 6) human rights (ASA 2019). The Association also dictates the ethical standards for professional and scientific conduct that center on and clarify the rules and policies surrounding the established guiding principles. Any violation of the code may lead to imposition of sanctions including termination of membership (ASA 2019).
Practitioners must be aware of the ethical standards established by their respective professional associations including other professional groups (i.e., therapists, counselors, etc.) to remain certified and affiliated with the organizations and networks. The Association for Applied and Clinical Sociology also has a code of ethics. The central value in sociological practice is “do no harm.” This means practitioners are responsible for protecting clients including community collaborators by obtaining informed consent to participate, protecting privacy and anonymity, preventing physical and emotional harm, ensuring truth and honesty, and providing information and feedback as needed (Bruhn and Rebach 2007). It is imperative for practitioners to be clear about the ethical soundness of their decisions when working with clients, the community, and collaborators to ensure the values and standards of the profession. Respect and communication are essential in building moral relationships and maintaining ethical standards in sociological practice.
Consider the parameters of the ethical value “do no harm.”
Explain methodology and approach for obtaining informed consent from people in sociological practice.
Describe the ways to protect privacy and anonymity of clients, community members, and collaborators as a practitioner.
Discuss how to prevent physical and emotional harm when addressing the social conditions people face or confront. Explain the boundaries and code of conduct for maintaining professional relationships with clients, community members, and collaborators.
Illustrate how to maintain honesty and truth in your professional work and relationships.
Describe the appropriate attitude and approach when providing information and feedback to clients, community members, and collaborators.