The Ethics of Management Research: An Exploratory Content Analysis

Bell, Emma and Bryman, Alan (2007). The Ethics of Management Research: An Exploratory Content Analysis. British Journal of Management, 18(1) pp. 63–77.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8551.2006.00487.x

Abstract

Management academics have tended to rely on ethics codes developed by social researchers in related fields to inform their research practice. The point of this paper is to question whether this remains a viable approach in the current climate that is characterized by a significant increase in ethical regulation across the social sciences. We suggest that management researchers face ethical issues of a different nature to those most frequently confronted by other social science researchers, and argue for more explicit acknowledgement of contextual factors involved in management research. An exploratory analysis of the content of ethics codes formulated by nine social scientific associations is undertaken to identify the main ethical principles they cover and to analyse their underlying ethical tone. Drawing attention to the principle of reciprocity, which is found in very few codes, we suggest that an ethics code could be used to formulate new ways of thinking about management research relationships. Despite the risk that ethics codes may encourage instrumental compliance with minimal ethical obligations, we suggest they also have the potential to reflect a more aspirational agenda. The development of an ethics code for management research should therefore be seen as a potentially worthwhile project.

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