How can the gap between ethical prescriptions and behavior
be closed? The various ethical codes have not been sufficiently
internalized so that they have become part of the anthropologist’s
decision-making apparatus. This can be corrected by developing
a greater knowledge of the ethical codes; by developing a greater
sensitivity to moral concerns; and by developing skills in ethical
decision-making. This latter is complicated by the abstract nature
of codes; the multiple roles of the anthropologist; and the nature
of anthropological inquiry that takes place at an interface of
The case-discussion method is described as one approach
to training for ethical decision-making. But the grafting of such
a course onto a curriculum is only a partial solution. Departmental
structure and the processes of anthropological education must
also be such that they do not contribute towards an erosion of
moral controls. For the ultimate source of moral behavior is the
individual. This is expressed in the development of the habit
of the truth and trust. For a science whose primary instrument
is the individual, these characteristics must be finely tuned.
Observational precision is eroded by any deceitful or ungenuine
interactions. And those whose everyday relations are so contaminated
are also likely to become dishonest in their research and publishing.
The institution of a code of ethics for the American Anthropological
Association — I refer here both to the Statement on Ethics
and the Principles of Professional Responsibility — has been
a significant and important event. While I have reservations about
certain aspects of this new code, and while I believe its function
and implementation have been inadequately considered from anthropological
perspective (cf. Appell 1974), these are not the problems that I
would like to discuss here. Instead I would like to consider the
basic problem of how to close the gap between ideology — that
is the various codes of ethics including the code of the Society
for Applied Anthropology — and behavior. Or in broader terms,
how can we increase the levels of active moral concern within the
A number of questions can be raised as to how one achieves conformity
to a code of ethics. For example, conformity to a moral order is
related to the degree to which the moral order represents the intentions
and beliefs of the members, and this question might be put to our
own codes of ethics. Or, we might ask, what sanctions are there
available to enforce conformity? But, these types of questions are
ones that the Committee on Ethics has already dealt with, whether
we agree with their conclusions or not, and so I shall not approach
Instead, in approaching the problem of closing the gap between
ideology and behavior, I should like to consider the part that education
might play in contributing towards improving the ethics of anthropological
inquiry. However, first, some estimation of the degree to which
members of the Association have internalized the codes and the degree
to which the codes are being used as a basis to form action will
be of relevance.
The Gap Between Official Ideology and the Moral Order of Everyday
I have been struck by how lightly the Statement on Ethics and
the Principles of Professional Conduct lie on the collective conscience
of the members of the Association. For the past several years at
various professional meetings and universities I have been holding
discussion sessions of case materials describing actual field dilemmas
that investigators have had difficulty in resolving, and only in
one instance did an individual refer to the statement on ethics
of the Association as being relevant for resolving an issue. And
this was quickly dismissed by the other participants. The year the
Principles were first circulated for consideration, I raised the
point at the general meeting of the Northeastern Anthropological
Association that if some of the behavioral prescriptions were conscientiously
followed they would stop research in many areas where the critical
problems the Principles were attempting to deal with had not yet
arisen. But only a very few displayed any knowledge of the Principles,
and fewer yet expressed any concern.
The point I want to make here simply is that in my observation
few anthropologists have sufficiently internalized the code so that
it has become part of their decision-making apparatus.
It seems to me that at least three approaches to correct this
problem might be considered: 1) developing a greater knowledge of
the substance of the Code; 2) developing a greater sensitivity to
moral concerns; and 3) developing skills in ethical decision-making
so that the anthropologist, when confronted with a difficult decision
in the field, will have had some experience and resources to fall
Developing a Knowledge of the Code
As a start it seems to me that some effort should be undertaken
to ensure that the contents of the various statements on ethics
are more generally known, and this can be a relatively simple matter.
The statement on ethics can be assigned as required reading in anthropology
courses and control over the contents can be tested. Perhaps here
the Committee on Ethics might consider designing a “minicourse,”
including testing instruments, for use in anthropological departments.
Developing Sensitivity to Ethical Issues
There is no question, at least from my experience, that individuals
vary greatly as to whether or not they see a situation or view an
experience in moral terms. For example, I have inquired widely of
members in the profession as to whether they might have any interesting
case materials illustrating difficult ethical decisions. But I have
found that a number of individuals maintain that they never have
experienced any such problems. And I have the distinct impression
that this position is more frequently found among those social scientists
who view the world in terms of “negotiated social orders,”
in terms of stratagems, than among social structuralists. But this
is a minor point, though interesting if true. The point I do want
to make here, however, is that not all people view the social world
in which they operate as constrained by a distinct moral order that
supports a certain level of behavior. Nevertheless, it has been
my experience that many of these same individuals, after experiencing
a discussion session of case materials illustrating ethical dilemmas
and conflicts, become sensitized to moral concerns and then realize
that they too have faced such concerns in the field. And from these
I have collected some very interesting case materials.
In summary, I maintain that by participating in group discussion
of ethical and moral concerns many people are sensitized to look
for these issues and become more aware of the consequences their
own behavior has on others.
Developing Skills in Ethical Decision-Making
In considering techniques and programs whereby anthropologists
can develop skills in ethical decision-making, the nature of the
environment in which many of these critical decisions take place
might first be profitably examined.
Anthropological inquiry by its very nature takes place at an interface
of ethical systems. Thus, the anthropologist frequently finds himself
in situations that demand a choice, a plan of action, or a decision
in an environment of conflict between customs, rules, and principles
that would normally provide guides for action. And for many of these
situations of conflict in value judgment, no immediate and obvious
solution may exist. The investigator may also have to make such
a choice and reach a decision without adequate information or sufficient
time to probe all the ramifications of the situation. Thus, how
the individual resolves this conflict depends on the degree to which
his judgment has matured through knowledge, experience, and training.
However, graduate training for such contingencies is as yet not
very far advanced.
Complicating the problems of decision-making at an interface of
ethical systems is the fact that the anthropologist occupies multiple
roles — field worker, teacher, writer, citizen, guest in a
foreign country, member of a cultural tradition, and so forth —
all of which have ethical and moral expectations which are frequently
irreconcilable. As a result an anthropologist characteristically
must live with moral ambiguity, and it may well be that the best
field workers are those who can tolerate, but not ignore, these
ambiguities. However, since the process by which field workers come
to terms with these dilemmas of moral ambiguity has seldom been
studied, it is difficult to prepare students for the field, except,
as I shall shortly argue, by the case method. But before I discuss
this approach, I would first like to outline very briefly some aspects
of the nature of moral systems so that we can understand the difficulties
in developing teaching techniques that might help close the gap
between ideology and behavior.
First of all, moral codes present general principles to guide
action, and as such they are usually phrased in abstract and general
language so that they have a more universal relevance. On the other
hand, actual decision-making environments are very concrete and
clouded with bewildering detail. Furthermore, facts are seldom clear-cut
and are usually subject to several interpretations. Consequently,
the first problem in the use of a moral code for guiding action
is learning to recognize those instances where an ethical issue
is involved. Secondly, there is the problem of sorting out from
a variety of ethical principles that particular one that would apply
to the actual instance. This can be complicated as situations are
frequently so structured that several principles may be operative,
often in conflict with each other. Thus, skills must be developed
first for analyzing the problem; then for determining the range
of issues involved, and next for sorting out from the several possible
principles those that most directly apply to the situation at hand,
resolving any conflicts, if this is in fact possible, between competing
The next stage involves the problem of how to move from a precept
to its application. A rigid application of a principle may result
in unethical behavior when viewed from other principles. And the
generality of phrasing in principles may actually permit justification
for behaviors that cannot in terms of the spirit of the principle
be subsumed under it. Both in analyzing a specific situation and
in determining the application of a precept, skills must be developed
for selecting those facts that are of significance to the issues
at hand and to discard others which are only peripheral to the problem.
And in the application of a precept, skills must also be developed
for deciding how and in what form a principle may be amended to
fit the idiosyncrasies of the ongoing situation without destroying
the validity of the principle. But both in deciding which precept
applies and in planning how to put it into action, one must also
learn to judge what the consequences of a line of action might be,
for in the probable consequences themselves there are clues as to
what principle might be more appropriate and what line of application
the most satisfactory.
Finally, through experience in dealing with difficult ethical decisions
the anthropologist comes to develop his own set of working rules
for the application of ethical precepts, and he should also develop
skills to discern when new situations arise that demand new ethical
principles or revisions of old ones.
Use of the Case Method
The case method has long been used in business schools to provide
students with the opportunity to gain experience and develop skills
in decision-making before being confronted with actual situations.
However, this method has also been recently applied to ethical decision-making
(cf. Fletcher 1966; Eckels 1968), and so I have not really invented
anything new in developing a case book, entitled Dilemmas and Ethical
Conflicts in Anthropological Inquiry, for use in teaching and learning
about the ethics of anthropological inquiry. It is inappropriate
to discuss this further here, as I have done so elsewhere (cf. Appell
1971, 1973a, 1973b, 1974). However, I believe it to be essential
that the profession take some action on developing skills for ethical
decision-making, not only because of the nature of the environment
in which anthropologists characteristically make their decisions,
or because we have a new statement on ethics which needs to be studied,
tested, internalized, and perhaps modified, but also because graduate
education takes place in a rather rarified atmosphere and does not
prepare the student for the actualities of extended field work.
It tends to develop skills in theoretical debate rather than those
for making more appropriate ethical decisions in field conditions.
In concluding, I do not want to leave the impression that a simple
case discussion course grafted onto the regular curriculum is really
going to solve completely the problem of developing more moral concern
on the part of anthropologists (cf. Wright 1971). Moral education
does not cease with the socialization in the home, or by a course,
but must be an integral part of the whole educational process. And
I am constantly amazed by the fact that anthropologists will fight
for the humane treatment of an ethnic group in some far geographical
region but will develop departmental structures and instructional
processes that leave their students brutalized and dehumanized.
For a discipline that straddles the humanities and the human sciences,
for a discipline that studies and attempts to understand human behavior,
this boggles the mind.
Thus, if the staff-student relationship is one of mutual hostility
or indifference, antisocial behavior is encouraged; where self-esteem
is threatened, moral controls are weakened (Wright 1971:239-244).
If the teacher does not provide the proper role model, if in his
teaching he overstresses the objectification of man and ignores
the crucial issues that are affecting ethnic groups throughout the
world, then he con tributes to moral anesthesia.
Finally, I would like to make a few remarks on the responsibility
of the individual for contributing to a better climate for ethical
behavior in the profession, for the ultimate locus of moral concern
and behavior must lie with the individual. While we can create the
environment in departments that encourages the development of moral
concern, while we can institute courses to increase skills in ethical
decision-making, the question of ethical behavior in the final analysis
must be answered by the individual. It must be answered by his willingness
to become sensitized to the interests of others, and not solely
oriented towards self-interest, in both the conduct of his anthropological
inquiry and the use of its results. He must become sensitized to
how one’s actions may jeopardize or threaten the interests
of others and become willing to sacrifice his own interests if humanity
can be better served.
But ethical behavior is also expressed by the individual in his
willingness to develop the habit of the truth. For the habit of
the truth creates trust, and trust is the mortar of all social relations,
the mortar which holds society together, and the mortar on which
the scientific profession must be based (cf. Bronowski 1965). It
is clear that the present social disorganization in society at large
derives from a breakdown in trust, and in my observation there has
been a similar erosion of trust and concern for others within the
anthropological profession. This has occurred as the result of demographic
changes, the increased opportunity for financial gain, and the greater
opportunities to gain power and position so that the search for
the truth no longer has the power to motivate people that it once
However, for the members of a science that deals with human beings,
a science whose primary instrument is the individual scientist himself,
personal gain must be subordinated to the commitment to others and
the habit of the truth cultivated in the extreme. This is so not
only because of the potential harm that an individual scientist
can do, or because, otherwise, he betrays his own profession, but
also and more immediately because the investigator must depend on
himself, and the training that he has given himself, for the clarity
and truth of his observations and scientific conclusions. It then
follows that the anthropologist must refrain from any deceitful,
insincere, ungenuine, or false social interactions with anyone.
He must be completely truthful and honest with himself and others,
no matter where the interaction takes place. For otherwise he corrodes
his most precious scientific instrument, himself, and interferes
with its observational precision. For those who are less than honest
in their social relations out of the field, who fall into the habit
of being less than frank in their everyday relations, they are also
likely to be dishonest in their research.
Thus, while we can institute courses, and we should, we also must
make sure that the rest of the instructional processes and the departmental
organization itself are such as to encourage moral concern. But
in doing all this we must be well aware that such actions can be
used as an excuse from facing the very hard fact: the ultimate responsibility
for ethical behavior lies with ourselves.
1 G. N. Appell is a Research Associate in the Department of Anthropology,
Brandeis University. This paper was prepared for the Symposium,
Learning and Teaching About Ethics in Field Work, Dr. Steven Polgar
and Dr. G. N. Appell, Moderators, 1973 Annual Meeting of the American
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