In sociological research, do the ends justify the means ?

Essay by weihaiwei November 2003

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In Sociological Research, Do The Ends Justify The Means ? Discuss.

This essay intends to define the purpose of ethics, ethical issues and considerations in research methods. It will look at the differences in research methods and various case studies to support them, but mainly focusing on participant observation.

The definition of 'ethics' in the "Oxford Concise Dictionary" (1995) states a set of moral principles adj. 'ethical' - relating to morals esp. as concerning human conduct; morally correct; honourable.

As far as the ethics of sociological research are concerned the British Sociological Association (BSA) have produced a statement of ethical practice in order to try to establish some regulation in the conduct of research and ensure that the findings are thus professionally acceptable. Sociological researchers will at times incur ethical as well as legal conflicts of interest. They are obliged to protect the rights of those that they study ensuring that their privacy and interests are secure.

Where participants feel their interests are being compromised they are likely to provide distorted or misleading data, thus potentially invalidating the research. However, to research covertly, whereby participants are ignorant of their involvement, can in some cases result in a breach of ethical guidelines thus rendering the result professionally unacceptable. However, dismissal of the results may not be automatic if the results are particularly beneficial. The benefit of the research must also be considered against the methods employed, whereby breaching the ethical code to obtain unbeneficial information would be regarded as professionally unacceptable.

The ethical issues involved in research will vary depending on the type of research being conducted. The main sources of information are primary and secondary. Primary information is that obtained first hand in the field where as secondary information is obtained from existing documentation be it research or statistical...