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How can you be a virtuous researcher?

What principles should we follow to act as virtuous researchers? David Carpenter offers a framework to avoid vices throughout social science research.
This is a fork, on which a person is walking. They are choosing the middle tine rather than the upper, thinner or lower, thicker tine (both upper and lower tines are bent)
© University of Leicester

In preparation for revising their ethical guidelines (published in 2016), the Academy of Social Sciences held a series of symposia to discuss current thinking about and issues in Social Science research. In the first symposium about ethical principles, Dr David Carpenter of the University of Portsmouth, contributed a ‘Stimulus’ Paper (AcSS, 2013). This presented a framework linked to Aristotelian reasoning that can be interpreted as researchers having duties to avoid vices and follow a path of virtue – known as the Aristotelian Doctrine of the Mean. Vices can be considered as both deficits or excesses of the virtuous path (as outlined in the previous step). Carpenter refers to the following phases of research:

  • Framing = finding a focus and setting questions

  • Negotiating = gaining permission and access to a site and gaining informed consent

  • Generating = gathering the data

  • Creating = analysing the data, generating models and theories

  • Disseminating = sharing findings with others

  • Reflecting = reflections on the research process

Phase Vice (deficit) Virtue Vice (excess)
Framing Cowardice Courage Recklessness
Negotiating Manipulativeness Respectfulness Partiality
Generating Laziness Resoluteness Inflexibility
Creating Concealment Sincerity Exaggeration
Disseminating Boastfulness Humility Timidity
Reflecting Dogmatism Reflexivity Indecisiveness


Look at the table above. Choose one of the research stages in the left hand column. Sketch out some practical actions or behaviours a researcher might exhibit which would lead them to be judged as virtuous or demonstrating either vices of deficit or excess.

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© University of Leicester
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People Studying People: Research Ethics in Society

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