Virtue Ethics in the Practice and Review of Social Science Research

This event was organised in conjunction with the BSA.

Event Flyer

 BSA meeting rooms, London SW6 2PY

Friday 1st May 2015:

Subsequent to the previous events and activities undertaken by the Academy’s Research Ethics Group we canvassed participants as to topics of future interest. This event was organised in response. As with previous events the presentation of position papers was followed by comments and audience discussion. Details of the main presentations can be found below, as can written copies of the stimulus papers and two of the four commentaries presented on the day.

The day was chaired by John Oates (OU and Member of the Academy of Social Science’s Research Ethics Group) and a summary of the discussions that took place can be found here (.pdf).

Stimulus Paper 1: From research integrity to researcher integrity: issues of conduct, competence and commitment (.pdf), Sarah Banks (Durham).

Comments: Annabelle Mark (Middlesex & SHOC) (.pdf) and Richard Kwiatkowski (Cranfield).

Stimulus Paper 2: The Virtuous Ethics Committee (.pdf), David Carpenter (Portsmouth).

Comments: Helen Brown Coverdale (LSE) (.pdf) and John Elliott (UEA) (.pdf).

From Left to Right: Annabelle Mark (Middlesex & SHOC), John Elliott (UEA), David Carpenter (Portsmouth), Richard Kwiatkowski (Cranfield), Helen Coverdale (LSE), Richard Kwiatkowski (Cranfield), Sarah Banks (Durham) and John Oates (OU).

From Left to Right: Annabelle Mark (Middlesex & SHOC), John Elliott (UEA), David Carpenter (Portsmouth), Richard Kwiatkowski (Cranfield), Helen Brown Coverdale (LSE), Richard Kwiatkowski (Cranfield), Sarah Banks (Durham) and John Oates (OU).


Lead Presentation Abstracts:

From research integrity to researcher integrity: issues of conduct, competence and commitment. Prof. Sarah Banks (Durham):

Abstract: This presentation will discuss the concept of researcher integrity in the context of the rapidly growing concern with research integrity. I will explore researcher integrity as a complex quality of character or ‘virtue’, which has a focus on the motivations and commitments of the researcher as a practitioner in the research community. This contrasts with the common focus on research integrity, which usually considers the integrity of the research practice – although clearly the integrity of the researcher and of the research organisation influence the conduct of research. I will discuss what is meant by researcher integrity, including weak and strong versions of the concept (conduct according to extant standards, versus reflexive commitment to ideals of what research should be at its best), and how character-based approaches to ethics complement and extend conduct-focussed, regulatory approaches. Whilst the concept of ‘character’ is disputed, and there are critiques of ‘character-building’ education programmes, there are also equally valid challenges to regulatory, conduct-focussed approaches to ethics.


The Virtuous Ethics Committee. David Carpenter (Portsmouth)

In a previous paper given to this forum I argued that research might be better guided by virtue ethics rather than principlism and other well established theories of practical ethics, such as deontology and consequentialism (Carpenter 2014). Here, I drew on the work of Bruce Macfarlane (2009, 2010) in making a case for the virtuous researcher and virtuous research. The ensuing discussion indicated reasonably substantial support for this approach but, perhaps more interestingly, attention was also drawn to the role and conduct of ethics committees in reviewing research. The discussion indicated that, whilst there is an abundance of codes and similar documents aimed at guiding research conduct, there was little to guide ethics committees and their members. A virtue ethics approach to research might help committees identify virtuous research and researchers but it could be equally useful in guiding the reviewing work of committees In this paper I attempt to relocate and develop Macfarlane’s work such that it is suitable to an analysis of ethical review. In particular I will consider the virtues that reviewers should exhibit or demonstrate when reviewing research and what we might take as the telos of ethics committees.

Carpenter, D. (2013). Generic Ethics Principles in Social Science Research Discussion – Stimulus Paper, (Symposium 1, 5th March 2013). In Professional Briefing (3): Developing Generic Ethics Principles for Social Science. Published by the Academy of Social Sciences, available from:

Macfarlane, B. (2009) Researching with Integrity: the ethics of academic enquiry. New York: Routledge.

Macfarlane, B. (2010) Values and virtues in qualitative research In: Savin-Baden, M. and Major, C.H. (eds.) New Approaches to Qualitative Research: wisdom and uncertainty New York: Routledge.


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