The American Sociologists Association’s (ASA) Code of Ethics sets the standards for practice for sociologists. It provides guidance on how the sociologist carries out every day activities. It provides suggestions and rules for dealing with other professionals and members of the public. The ASA maintains the Code may be interpreted differently depending on the characteristics of a specific situation.
The introduction to the ASA’s Code of Ethics provides general information. Sociologists who desire membership in the ASA must agree to abide by the rules and guidelines of the Code of Ethics. Violations of the Code can result in sanctions or the termination of membership. The Code applies to actions that are “part of or affects (the members) work-related functions, or if the activity is sociological in nature.” Personal actives that do not fit into these categories are not governed by the Code.
The ideas and concepts contained in the preamble are recommendations rather than hard rules. They are designed to help the sociologist achieve the “highest ideals of sociology” The preamble introduces the code as a tool to provide guidance in professional and work related situations. It establishes the primary goal of the code as concern for the welfare and protection of individuals and groups with whom the sociologist has contact. The preamble encourages the obtainment of the highest possible standards in practice, teaching, research and service. The Preamble encourages sociologists to make a lifelong commitment to the profession, co-workers, fellow students, colleagues and supervisors.
Like the Preamble, the General Principles contained in the Code of Ethics are guidelines, not rules. The General Principles cover the following topics: professional competence; integrity; professional and scientific responsibility; respect for people’s rights, dignity and diversity and social responsibility. Principle A directs the sociologist to recognize personal expertise limitations and to only take assignments for which he is qualified. Ongoing education and consultation with other sociologists is encouraged. Principle B pertains to personal attributes such as honesty, fairness and respect for others. Principle C recommends that sociologists abide by the highest standards and take responsibility for their work. Principle D holds that sociologists should “respect the rights, dignity and worth of all people.” Principle E states sociologists should be aware of their “professional and scientific responsibility to communities”.
The Ethical Standards of the ASA’s Code contains rules for conduct. It contains direction related to many of the same topics found in the General Principles. Additional topics covered include the misuse or misrepresentation of expertise; rules regarding delegation and supervision; employment decisions; conflicts of interest; confidentiality; decision-making; public communications; informed consent; research practices and publication procedures.
The Ethical Standards in the Code of Ethics are “not exhaustive.” They are written broadly so they apply to sociologists performing in various roles. The application of any rule may vary depending on the context of a particular situation.