Academic journal article International Journal of Action Research

Commitment and Regulation. Ethics in Research and the Human Sciences *

Academic journal article International Journal of Action Research

Commitment and Regulation. Ethics in Research and the Human Sciences *

Article excerpt

The place of ethics in research

Concern about ethical issues is nothing new in modern science, although in its youth, in the 18th and 19th centuries, it was enveloped in an idealistic mystique and restricted to select groups that were seen as noble and selfless at the same time (Humboldt, 1982; Weber, 1982, ch. 5), while the potential for conflict of interests and negative consequences of its results were considered small. Well before the experiments with human beings in NationalSocialism and the formulation of the Nuremberg Code (Counsel for War Crimes, 1996), which was done as a reaction to them and indelibly marked research in the field of health, in the human sciences there were already concerns and reflections about research ethics. Max Weber, in his memorable talk to students about science as a vocation in 1917 (1982, ch. 5), warned that the difference in the level of power in the teaching-learning relationship required containment by the teacher in academic activities, leaving personal position-taking to be exposed in the public arena. A more polemical episode involved Franz Boas (cf. Price, 2000). Indignant at the double role of researcher and war spy played by some of his professional colleagues, he questioned the ethicalness of such a hybrid in a text published in a newspaper in December 1919.

Nevertheless, even though the dilemmas to which the scientist's activity can lead, especially when it is subjugated by other priorities,1 were perceived relatively early as an important matter in the human sciences, the answers found were, at least when seen retrospectively, unsatisfactory. When he turned against political militancy in the classroom and advocated, as an ethical imperative, the separation between the activity of a teacher from that of a citizen, Weber, similarly to Humboldt and following the categorical imperative of their common master, Kant, bet on the correctness of the circumstantial judgment made by the scientist. On the other hand, the American Association of Anthropology, to whose board Boas belonged, preferred to punish the claimant: not only sparing the denounced, but ensuring their right to judge in their own favor. This "solution" appears even more inadequate when one takes into consideration that, according to Cardoso de Oliveira (2010), Boas was the only member of that association who was punished for ethical reasons in almost a century, and that, at least according to David Price (2000), in the United States of America, in emblematic cases, anthropological research and spying continued and still continue to be amalgamated.

As the social relations in which research is situated become increasingly complex, especially with the growing interweaving of economic, political and personal career interests with the production of knowledge, the issue of ethics takes on an importance that cannot be ignored. The more science moves from the production of knowledge to the production of technology, the greater the reasons for its presuppositions, procedures and results to be debated in the public sphere and subjected to various modalities of social control, of which evaluation and ethical regulation are only two of many possibilities.

In accordance with these developments, in various disciplines sensibilities were developed that distinguish between procedures considered acceptable and those considered non-advisable or even unacceptable. Based on this sensibility, an entire branch of knowledge was developed: reflection on ethics in research (Johnsson, Eriksson, Helgesson, & Hansson, 2014; Kottow, 2008). Strictly speaking, it concerns itself with matters such as those pointed out based on the examples of Max Weber and Franz Boas. It also seeks to observe scientific activity from a more epistemological-political perspective, in which, besides the problems of dishonest or manipulative procedures (cf. Cottrell, 2014; Lignou & Edwards, 2012), both the purpose of scientific and technological development and its political implications are analysed (Ellul, 1983; Horkheimer, 1988). …

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