Principles of Professional Responsibility

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Statements on Ethics - Principles of Professional Responsibility

Adopted by the Council of the American Anthropological Association, May 1971 (As amended through November 1986)

Note: This statement of principles is not intended to supersede previous statements and resolutions of the Association. Its intent is to clarify professional responsibilities in the chief areas of professional concern to anthropologists.


Anthropologists work in many parts of the world in close personal association with the peoples and situations they study. Their professional situation is, therefore, uniquely varied and complex. They are involved with their discipline, their colleagues, their students, their sponsors, their subjects, their own and host governments, the particular individuals and groups with whom they do their fieldwork, other populations and interest groups in the nations within which they work, and the study of processes and issues affecting general human welfare. In a field of such complex involvements, misunderstandings, conflicts, and the necessity to make choices among conflicting values are bound to arise and to generate ethical dilemmas. It is a prime responsibility of anthropologists to anticipate these and to plan to resolve them in such a way as to do damage neither to those whom they study nor, insofar as possible, to their scholarly community. Where these conditions cannot be met, the anthropologist would be well-advised not to pursue the particular piece of research.

The following principles are deemed fundamental to the anthropologist's responsible, ethical pursuit of the profession.

1. Relations with those studied In research, anthropologists' paramount responsibility is to those they study. When there is a conflict of interest, these individuals must come first. Anthropologists must do everything in their power to protect the physical, social, and psychological welfare and to honor the dignity and privacy of those studied.

a. Where research involves the acquisition of material and information transferred on the assumption of trust between persons, it is axiomatic that the rights, interests, and sensitivities of those studied must be safeguarded.

b. The aims of the investigation should be communicated as well as possible to the informant.

c. Informants have a right to remain anonymous. This right should be respected both where it has been promised explicitly and where no clear understanding to the contrary has been reached. These strictures apply to the collection of data by means of cameras, tape recorders, and other data-gathering devices, as well as to data collected in face-to-face interviews or in participant observation. Those being studied should understand the capacities of such devices; they should be free to reject them if they wish; and if they accept them, the results obtained should be consonant with the informant's right to welfare, dignity and privacy.

(1) Despite every effort being made to preserve anonymity, it should be made clear to informants that such anonymity may be compromised unintentionally.

(2) When professionals or others have used pseudonyms to maintain anonymity, others should respect this decision and the reasons for it by not revealing indiscriminately the true identity of such committees, persons or other data.

d. There should be no exploitation of individual informants for personal gain. Fair return should be given them for all services.

e. There is an obligation to reflect on the foreseeable repercussions of research and publication on the general population being studied.

f. The anticipated consequences of research should be communicated as fully as possible to the individuals and groups likely to be affected.

g. In accordance with the Association's general position on clandestine and secret research, no reports should be provided to sponsors that are not also available to the general public and, where practicable, to the population studied.

h. Every effort should be exerted to cooperate with members of the host society in the planning and execution of research projects.

i. All of the above points should be acted upon in full recognition of the social and cultural pluralism of host societies and the consequent plurality of values, interests and demands in those societies. This diversity complicates choice making in research, but ignoring it leads to irresponsible decisions.

2. Responsibility to the public Anthropologists are also responsible to the public--all presumed consumers of their professional efforts. To them they owe a commitment to candor and to truth in the dissemination of their research results and in the statement of their opinions as students of humanity.

a. Anthropologists should not communicate findings secretly to some and withhold them from others.

b. Anthropologists should not knowingly falsify or color their findings.

c. In providing professional opinions, anthropologists are responsible not only for their content but also for integrity in explaining both these opinions and their bases.

d. As people who devote their professional lives to understanding people, anthropologists bear a positive responsibility to speak out publicly, both individually and collectively, on what they know and what they believe as a result of their professional expertise gained in the study of human beings. That is, they bear a professional responsibility to contribute to an "adequate definition of reality" upon which public opinion and public policy may be based.

e. In public discourse, anthropologists should be honest about their qualifications and cognizant of the limitations of anthropological expertise.

3. Responsibility to the discipline Anthropologists bear responsibility for the good reputation of the discipline and its practitioners.

a. Anthropologists should undertake no secret research or any research whose results cannot be freely derived and publicly reported.

b. Anthropologists should avoid even the appearance of engaging in clandestine research, by fully and freely disclosing the aims and sponsorship of all research.

c. Anthropologists should attempt to maintain such a level of integrity and rapport in the field that, by their behavior and example, they will not jeopardize future research there. The responsibility is not to analyze and report so as to offend no one, but to conduct research in a way consistent with a commitment to honesty, open inquiry, clear communication of sponsorship and research aims, and concern for the welfare and privacy of informants.

d. Anthropologists should not present as their own work, either in speaking or writing, materials directly taken from other sources.

e. When anthropologists participate in actions related to hiring, retention, and advancement, they should ensure that no exclusionary practices be perpetuated against colleagues on the basis of sex, marital status, color, social class, religion, ethnic background, national origin, sexual orientation, age, or other nonacademic attributes. Nor should any otherwise qualified individual be excluded on the basis of disability. Anthropologists should, furthermore, refrain from transmitting and resist the use of information irrelevant to professional performance in such personnel actions.

4. Responsibility to students In relations with students, anthropologists should be candid, fair, nonexploitative, and committed to the student's welfare and progress.

As Robert Lekachman has suggested, honesty is the essential quality of a good teacher, neutrality is not. Beyond honest teaching, anthropologists as teachers have ethical responsibilities in selection, instruction in ethics, career counseling, academic supervision, evaluation, compensation, and placement.

a. Anthropologists should select students in such a way as to preclude discrimination on the basis of sex, race, ethnic group, social class, and other categories of people indistinguishable by their intellectual potential.

b. Anthropologists should alert students to the ethical problems of research and discourage them from participating in projects employing questionable ethical standards. This should include providing them with information and discussions to protect them from unethical pressures and enticements emanating from possible sponsors, as well as helping them to find acceptable alternatives (see point i below).

c. Anthropologists should be receptive and seriously responsive to students' interests, opinions, and desires in all aspects of their academic work and relationships.

d. Anthropologists should realistically counsel students regarding career opportunities.

e. Anthropologists should conscientiously supervise, encourage and support students in their anthropological and other academic endeavors.

f. Anthropologists should inform students of what is expected of them in their course of study; be fair in the evaluation of their performance; communicate evaluations to the students concerned.

g. Anthropologists should acknowledge in print the student assistance used in their own publications; give appropriate credit (including co-authorship) when student research is used in publication; encourage and assist in publication of worthy student papers; and compensate students justly for the use of their time, energy, and intelligence in research and teaching.

h. Anthropologists should energetically assist students in securing legitimate research support and the necessary permission to pursue research.

i. Anthropologists should energetically assist students in securing professional employment upon completion of their studies.

j. Anthropologists should strive to improve both our techniques of teaching and our techniques for evaluating the effectiveness of our methods of teaching.

5. Responsibility to sponsors In relations with sponsors of research, anthropologists should be honest about their qualifications, capabilities, aims. They thus face the obligation, prior to entering any commitment for research, to reflect sincerely upon the purposes of their sponsors in terms of their past behavior. Anthropologists should be especially careful not to promise or imply acceptance of conditions contrary to their professional ethics or competing commitments. This requires that they require of sponsors full disclosure of the sources of funds, personnel, aims of the institution and the research project, and disposition of research results. Anthropologists must retain the right to make all ethical decisions in their research. They should enter into no secret agreements with sponsors regarding research, results or reports.

6. Responsibilities to one's own government and to host governments In relation with their own government and with host governments, research anthropologists should be honest and candid. They should demand assurance that they will not be required to compromise their professional responsibilities and ethics as a condition of their permission to pursue research. Specifically, no secret research, no secret reports or debriefings of any kind should be agreed to or given. If these matters are clearly understood in advance, serious complications and misunderstandings can generally be avoided.


In the final analysis, anthropological research is a human undertaking, dependent upon choices for which the individual bears ethical as well as scientific responsibility. That responsibility is a human, not superhuman, responsibility. To err is human, to forgive humane. This statement of principles of professional responsibility is not designed to punish, but to provide guidelines which can minimize the occasions upon which there is a need to forgive. When anthropologists, by their actions, jeopardize peoples studied, professional colleagues, students or others, or if they otherwise betray their professional commitments, their colleagues may legitimately inquire into the propriety of those actions, and take such measures as lie within the legitimate powers of their Association as the membership of the Association deems appropriate.

Statement on Problems of Anthropological Research and Ethics

Adopted by the Council of the American Anthropological Association
March 1967

The human condition, past and present, is the concern of anthropologists throughout the world. The study of mankind in varying social, cultural, and ecological situations is essential to our understanding of human nature, of culture, and of society.

Our present knowledge of the range of human behavior is admittedly incomplete. Expansion and refinement of this knowledge depend heavily on international understanding and cooperation in scientific and scholarly inquiry. To maintain the independence and integrity of anthropology as a science, it is necessary that scholars have full opportunity to study peoples and their culture, to publish, disseminate, and openly discuss the results of their research, and to continue their responsibility of protecting the personal privacy of those being studied and assisting in their research.

Constraint, deception, and secrecy have no place in science. Actions which compromise the intellectual integrity and autonomy of research scholars and institutions not only weaken those international understandings essential to our discipline, but in so doing they also threaten any contribution anthropology might make to our own society and to the general interests of human welfare.

The situations which jeopardize research differ from year to year, from country to country, and from discipline to discipline. We are concerned here with problems that affect all the fields of anthropology and which, in varying ways, are shared by the social and behavioral sciences.

I. Freedom of Research 1. The Fellows of the American Anthropological Association reaffirm their resolution of 1948 on freedom of publication and protection of the interests of the persons and groups studied:

Be it resolved: (1) that the American Anthropological Association strongly urge all sponsoring institutions to guarantee their research scientists complete freedom to interpret and publish their findings without censorship or interference; provided that

(2) the interests of the persons and communities or other social groups studied are protected; and that

(3) in the event that the sponsoring institution does not wish to publish the results nor be identified with the publication, it permits publication of the results, without use of its name as sponsoring agency, through other channels. --American Anthropologist 51:370 (1949)

To extend and strengthen this resolution, the Fellows of the American Anthropological Association endorse the following:

2. Except in the event of a declaration of war by the Congress, academic institutions should not undertake activities or accept contracts in anthropology that are not related to their normal functions of teaching, research, and public service. They should not lend themselves to clandestine activities. We deplore unnecessary restrictive classifications of research reports prepared under contract for the Government, and excessive security regulations imposed on participating academic personnel.

3. The best interests of scientific research are not served by the imposition of external restrictions. The review procedures instituted for foreign area research contracts by the Foreign Affairs Research Council of the Department of State (following a Presidential directive of July, 1965) offer a dangerous potential for censorship of research. Additional demands by some United States agencies for clearance, and for excessively detailed itineraries and field plans from responsible scholars whose research has been approved by their professional peers or academic institutions, are contrary to assurances given by Mr. Thomas L. Hughes, Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Department of State, to the President of the American Anthropological Association on November 8, 1965, and are incompatible with effective anthropological research.

4. Anthropologists employed or supported by the Government should be given the greatest possible opportunities to participate in planning research projects, to carry them out, and to publish their findings.

II. Support and Sponsorship 1. The most useful and effective governmental support of anthropology in recent years has come through such agencies as the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the Smithsonian Institution. We welcome support for basic research and training through these and similar institutions.

2. The Fellows take this occasion to express their gratitude to those members of Congress, especially Senator Harris and Representative Fascell, who have so clearly demonstrated their interest in the social sciences, not only through enlarging governmental support for them, but also in establishing channels for social scientists to communicate their opinions to the Government regarding policies that affect the future of the social sciences and their utilization by Government.

3. When queried by individuals representing either host countries or groups being studied, anthropologists should willingly supply evidence of their professional qualifications and associations, their sponsorship and source of funds, and the nature and objectives of the research being undertaken.

4. Anthropologists engaged in research in foreign areas should be especially concerned with the possible effects of their sponsorship and sources of financial support. Although the Department of Defense and other mission-oriented branches of the Government support some basic research in the social sciences, their sponsorship may nevertheless create an extra hazard in the conduct of fieldwork and jeopardize future access to research opportunities in the areas studied.

5. Anthropologists who are considering financial support from independent research organizations should ascertain the full nature of the proposed investigations, including sponsorship and arrangements for publication. It is the responsibility of anthropologists to maintain the highest professional standards and to decline to participate in or to accept support from organizations that permit misrepresentation of technical competence, excessive costs, or concealed sponsorship of activities. Such considerations are especially significant where grants or fellowships are offered by foundations or other organizations which do not publish balance sheets showing their sources of funds.

6. The international reputation of anthropology has been damaged by the activities of unqualified individuals who have falsely claimed to be anthropologists, or who have pretended to be engaged in anthropological research while in fact pursuing other ends. There also is good reason to believe that some anthropologists have used their professional standing and the names of their academic institutions as cloaks for the collection of intelligence information and for intelligence operations. Academic institutions and individual members of the academic community, including students, should scrupulously avoid both involvement in clandestine intelligence activities and the use of the name of anthropology, or the title of anthropologist, as a cover for intelligence activities.

III. Anthropologists in United States Government Service 1. It is desirable that social science advice be made more readily available to the Executive Office of the President.

2. Where the services of anthropologists are needed in agencies of the Government, it is most desirable that professional anthropologists be involved at the project planning stage and in the actual recruitment of necessary personnel. Only in this manner is it possible to provide skilled and effective technical advice.

3. Anthropologists contemplating or accepting employment in governmental agencies in other than policy-making positions should recognize that they will be committed to agency missions and policies. They should seek in advance the clearest possible definition of their expected roles as well as the possibilities for maintaining professional contacts, for continuing to contribute to the profession through publication, and for maintaining professional standards in protecting the privacy of individuals and groups they may study.

Resolution on Freedom of Publication

Adopted by the Council of the American Anthropological Association
December 1948

Whereas a very great amount of purely scientific research in social science is financed by institutions which may have the legal right to publish, suppress, alter, or otherwise dispose of the research results in a manner that may be contrary to the will of the scientist and amount to suppression or curtailment of academic freedom; but

Whereas it is also true that indiscretion in publication may harm informants or groups from which information is obtained and may be damaging to the sponsoring institutions;

Be it resolved: (1) that the American Anthropological Association strongly urge all sponsoring institutions to guarantee their research scientists complete freedom to interpret and publish their findings without censorship or interference; provided that

(2) the interests of the persons and communities or other social groups studied are protected; and that

(3) in the event that the sponsoring institution does not wish to publish the results nor be identified with the publication, it permits publication of the results, without use of its name as sponsoring agency, through other channels.

AAA Statements AAA Ethics

updated 9/15/00

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