Ethical Issues and Issues of Sensitivity in Sociological Research
Ethical issues are the considerations that can have an important
influence on the research process. They are moral principles- beliefs
about what is right and wrong, which often guide research.
Sociological associations in many countries have a set of ethical
guidelines for conducting research. There are six main ethical issues;
I will explore them below.
Sensitive issues are issues that need to be dealt with tactfully
because of their subject matter. This could include subjects such as
death, health issues, sex etc. These are potentially sensitive
subjects as the people being researched may have had an unpleasant
situation with them.
The first ethical issue I will investigate is "informed consent". This
is the idea that those the researchers are studying should be given
the opportunity to agree or refuse to participate in the research.
This means covert observation could not take place, as this involves
not letting people know they are being observed. Informed consent
means that the researcher must provide information about the aims of
the research, what the conduct of the research involves and the
purpose to which the research will be put. This issue was raised when
James Patrick did his research on "A Glasgow Gang Observed". This
involved him becoming part of a "gang", only one member of the gang
knew he was a researcher undercover. From spending time with the
group, he gained information about what they did, what their attitudes
were and how far they were willing to go e.g. breaking the law. This
research did not involve informed consent, as the majority of the gang
did not know they were being observed.
Another issue is "deception". This means that information is withheld
from participants and/or they are provided with false information. The
people being studied may be unaware that they are being observed. This
issue relates to informed consent, as participants cannot give it if
they are being deceived. Research is often difficult and would
sometime become irrelevant, however, if participants knew they were
being observed. It may cause them to act differently and therefore the
research is invalid. Some researchers argue that deception is
justifiable if there is no other way of gathering information. Milgram
deceived all the teacher participants in his study when he got actors
to pretend they were being given electric shocks by the participants
when they got questions wrong. 65% of the time, the teacher would
supposedly "give an electric shock" of a high enough voltage to kill
the person being shocked. This could be dangerous as it may
psychologically damage the people involved when they find out it was a
set up and if it were real they would have killed the other person.
The third issue is...