Ethics and Human Interface:

Lecture 13 Status and problems; ethical concerns and dilemmas in government and private institutions


Download Our App

  1. Sociologists conduct studies to shed light on human behaviors. Knowledge is a powerful tool that can be used toward positive change. And while a sociologist’s goal is often simply to uncover knowledge rather than to spur action, many people use sociological studies to help improve people’s lives. In that sense, conducting a sociological study comes with a tremendous amount of responsibility. Like any researchers, sociologists must consider their ethical obligation to avoid harming subjects or groups while conducting their research.

  2. The American Sociological Association, or ASA, is the major professional organization of sociologists in North America. The ASA is a great resource for students of sociology as well. The ASA maintains a code of ethics—formal guidelines for conducting sociological research—consisting of principles and ethical standards to be used in the discipline. It also describes procedures for filing, investigating, and resolving complaints of unethical conduct.

  3. Practicing sociologists and sociology students have a lot to consider. Some of the guidelines state that researchers must try to be skillful and fair-minded in their work, especially as it relates to their human subjects. Researchers must obtain participants’ informed consent and inform subjects of the responsibilities and risks of research before they agree to partake. During a study, sociologists must ensure the safety of participants and immediately stop work if a subject becomes potentially endangered on any level.

  4. Researchers are required to protect the privacy of research participants whenever possible. Even if pressured by authorities, such as police or courts, researchers are not ethically allowed to release confidential information. Researchers must make results available to other sociologists, must make public all sources of financial support, and must not accept funding from any organization that might cause a conflict of interest or seek to influence the research results for its own purposes. The ASA’s ethical considerations shape not only the study but also the publication of results.

  5. Pioneer German sociologist Max Weber (1864–1920) identified another crucial ethical concern. Weber understood that personal values could distort the framework for disclosing study results. While he accepted that some aspects of research design might be influenced by personal values, he declared it was entirely inappropriate to allow personal values to shape the interpretation of the responses. Sociologists, he stated, must establish value neutrality, a practice of remaining impartial, without bias or judgment, during the course of a study and in publishing results (1949). Sociologists are obligated to disclose research findings without omitting or distorting significant data.

  6. Is value neutrality possible? Many sociologists believe it is impossible to set aside personal values and retain complete objectivity. They caution readers, rather, to understand that sociological studies may, by necessity, contain a certain amount of value bias. It does not discredit the results but allows readers to view them as one form of truth rather than a singular fact. Some sociologists attempt to remain uncritical and as objective as possible when studying cultural institutions. Value neutrality does not mean having no opinions. It means striving to overcome personal biases, particularly subconscious biases, when analyzing data. It means avoiding skewing data in order to match a predetermined outcome that aligns with a particular agenda, such as a political or moral point of view. Investigators are ethically obligated to report results, even when they contradict personal views, predicted outcomes, or widely accepted beliefs.

  7. Ethical dilemmas are situations in which there is a choice to be made between two options, neither of which resolves the situation in morally satisfactory manner. It is a circumstance that requires a choice between competing ideologies in a given, usually undesirable or confusing situation. 

Body: Potential sources of ethical dilemmas in Public institutions

  1. Administrative dilemma: The promotion of general welfare depends on the use or exploitation of administrative discretion. For ex: Public servants given a responsibility to approve a project to build a dam which would provide irrigation water to lakhs of acres. However, such approval could displace thousands of tribes.
  2. Public accountability and administrative secrecy: Not having enough transparency in all processes due to confidentiality.  Ex: whether the cost and process of Rafael deal should be put in public domain or secrecy for national security must be maintained.
  3. Law and compassion: For ex: A needy person who does not fulfil the one or two criteria of a welfare scheme but due to empathy and compassion, a public servant may want to help him/her. A dilemma here is between empathy, compassion and following the prescribed law.
  4. Policy dilemmas: Working towards the best interest of the community versus being responsive to the government. For ex: a favour of capitalism/liberal economy to sustain economic growth versus state ownership to maintain fair distribution of resources.
  5. Personal morals: When the directives are in contrast with own personal values of public officials.
  6. Personal interest and duty: For ex: When an Army officer is in a critical location handling key duties and his mother is sick or wife is pregnant and needs his presence at home.

Potential sources of ethical dilemmas in Private institutions

  1. Personal job security over wrong dismissal of colleague: For ex: When an employee knows his/her colleague has not done the mistake he/she has been blamed for by the upper level management, but does not speak up because of fear of losing job. Another scenario is where the person knows the upper level employee is guilty but he/she does not complain because of fear of being fired.
  2. Company rules over personal morals: For ex: An honest person facing dilemma over carrying out a dishonest company pitching knowing that it is not as beneficial as exhibited.
  3. Societal dilemmas: For ex: When you know someone is being unfairly treated but continue staying silent over the matter because of societal impression and acceptance.
  4. Professional duty and personal life: When you have to honour confidentiality of patients, clients etc but know a controversy or crisis is going to be caused.


Assessing the ethical concern of both government and private organization, it can be understood that the challenges posed by ethical dilemma sometimes make a person to be at a lost with no solution in sight. Proper training, code of conduct, emotional intelligence, keeping the public interest above and adherence to the values of integrity, objectivity, honesty in one’s own private life etc. will ensure just and ethical conduct.

Practice question:

  1. Discuss some of the major ethical Concerns and dilemmas faced by the … and problemsethical concerns and dilemmas in government and private institutions.
Call Now Button