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7 Rules Every Anthropologist Must Follow

Two hands holding a world with the word "responsibility"

In the last blog post, you learned how Cultural Anthropologists do research. Anthropologists can’t just research people whenever and wherever and however they want. There are professional guidelines for Anthropologists. Here are 7 rules every Anthropologist must follow (at least in the United States).

1. Do No Harm

Just as doctors take an oath to do no harm, Anthropologists are supposed to follow this rule as well. They need to think about the possible ways that their research may cause harm to people, and consider the potential consequences of their work. This is especially important if the Anthropologist is working with vulnerable populations, which means groups of people who could be exploited somehow (for example: children, people with mental or intellectual disabilities, and prisoners). Anthropologists need to discontinue a project if it causes harm, such as bodily harm and/or harm to dignity. 

2. Be Open and Honest

Anthropologists cannot be secretive about their work. They have to explain to people what the purpose of the research is, and the methods that will be used to collect data. They also have to explain what will be done with the results of the research as well. In addition, they need to explain who is sponsoring or funding the research project. Anthropologists are not allowed to mislead people or hold back information that might affect people’s decision to take part in the research. Anthropologists are also not allowed to falsify data, or misrepresent information.

3. Obtain Informed Consent

Anthropologists need to ask permission to conduct research on people. Each person needs to give informed consent. This means that the person understands what research is being done, and how and why, and they voluntarily agree to take part. The Anthropologist must make sure the person has not been coerced to join the research project. The Anthropologist also needs to explain how participants will be made anonymous, or how credit will be given to people who want it. 

4. Weigh Competing Ethical Obligations

If an ethical situation happens, the Anthropologist is supposed to consider all the ethical obligations and talk to the people involved before making a decision. Usually, obligations to the research participants come first. For example, the Anthropologist may discover information about participants that is important scientifically, but the people don’t want that information made public. This creates an ethical dilemma, and the Anthropologist must weigh all the factors involved.

5. Make Results Accessible

Anthropologists are supposed to make the results of the research accessible. They should not keep the research results from the research participants unless there are special circumstances. However, there are some circumstances where limiting the distribution of results may be the ethical choice, to prevent harm from coming to participants.

6. Protect and Preserve Records

Anthropologists need to decide how records will be stored, preserved, or disposed of, because some of the information needs to be kept confidential. Anthropologists also have to let people know who is going to be able to access their information.

7. Be Professional

Anthropologists should behave ethically and respectfully at all times. Anthropologists should not exploit people or materials. Also, Anthropologists should acknowledge all contributions to their research projects, so that anyone who helped them gets the proper credit.

So, these are the 7 rules every Anthropologist must follow. For more information and details on the Principles of Professional Responsibility for Anthropologists, please visit the American Anthropological Association’s Website.  

Thanks for reading!

7 Rules every Anthropologist must follow