Anthropological Ethics, Case Studies;2012 Statement on Ethics: Principles of Professional Responsibility;

Anthropological Ethics, Case Studies;2012 Statement on Ethics: Principles of Professional Responsibility;

Case 2: Witness to Murder
Mary Thompson had been conducting fieldwork in a Southeast Asian community for 18 months. Her
house was ideally located on the edge of the village plaza, allowing her to readily observe daily activities
that took place in the plaza. In addition to gatherings of women who shared food preparation tasks and
talk, and groups of men working individually on carvings, the plaza was regularly a gathering place for
men at night.
One night while Thompson was working up some statistical problems in her house, she was distracted by
loud, seemingly argumentative discussions in the plaza. When the noise of the argument reached a high
pitch, she decided to investigate the situation. Just as she stepped from her doorway, she saw one of the
men in the group of five, angrily raise his machete and deliver a deadly blow to another-Tom-in the
group. Stunned silence fell over the other three men= as they watched their companion quickly bleed to
death before their eyes. Moments later people from the other homes began moving into the plaza in
response to the wailing that came from the man who had wielded the machete. Moumful crying and
wailing was carried throughout the village. The family members ofthe dead man carried him to their
home and began funeral preparations. The next evening, Tom was buried. The man who had dealt the
deadly blow was allowed to participate in the funeral and to make a death payment to the family of the
Two days after the funeral, three regional policemen came to the village. As part of a new gOVernmental
program designed to reduce blood feuds, the regional authorities now regularly sought to arrest and jail
peOple who were involved in killings. They had heard about the recent death.
They began questioning the villagers in an attempt to determine if Tom had been “murdered.” Thompson
had written a detailed description of the events of the night of Tom’s death in her notebook which
contained a running record of village activities.
Thompson’s Dilemma: (I) Since she knew the police would question her, should she quickly tear Out and
destroy the pages in her notebook where the events were recorded? (2) When questioned by the police
should she, like the other villagers, plead ignorance concerning the killing?

AAA Statement of Ethics-Summary of Main Points

•    The Statement provides anthropologists the tools to develop and maintain an ethical framework in all stages of anthropological practice
o    Individual anthropologists make decisions based on these guidelines to follow ethical choices


1.    Do No Harm
o    Avoid causing direct and immediate harm and weigh the consequences and impact of their work that could result at any point in the future

2.    Be Open and Honest Regarding your Work
o    Need to be clear to all participants involved about the nature of their work and be transparent in their purpose, methods, outcomes and sponsors

3.    Obtain Informed Consent and Necessary Permissions
o    Gain informed and voluntary consent from all participants and establish expectations regarding anonymity and credit

4.    Weigh Competing Ethical Obligations Due Collaborators and Affected Parties
o    Primary obligation is usually to research participants and must make decisions based on their obligation to do no harm

5.    Make Your Results Accessible
o    Dissemination and sharing research must occur in a timely fashion unless it is to protect the safety, dignity, or privacy of research participants

6.    Protect and Preserve Your Records
o    Ensure the integrity, preservation and protection of their work

7.    Maintain Respectful and Ethical Professional Relationships
o    Maintain respectful relationships with others, not exploit others and are obligated to report misconduct to appropriate authorities

Case Study Name and #_________________________________________________________

Divide into groups of 3 for this activity. Each group will be given a specific case study. Refer to the AAA Ethics handout in your responses.

Step 1) Spend about 10 minutes as a group reading and discussing the case study. STOP reading when it indicates you to stop
Step 2) Answer questions 1-3
Step 3) Turn the sheet over and read the response. Discuss as a group how the answer you choose for Question 2 compares to the response
Step 4) Answer Question 4

Each individual will be responsible for handing in their own assignment and be prepared to discuss your answers with the rest of the class.

1.    What is the ethical dilemma presented in the case study?

2.    What should the anthropologist do?

3.    What elements of the AAA Code of Ethics are involved? Refer back to your notes and reading on the Code of Ethics for reference.

4.    How would you evaluate their decision in response to the Code of Ethics? Do you think it was a good decision or should they have responded differently?