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Position Statement on Ethics
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Position Statement on Ethical Considerations (1998)

The following document was approved by the Board of the Society for Ethnomusicology in 1998. As these "Ethical Considerations" will be reviewed periodically, SEM members are encouraged to comment on details of the text as well as on the general utility of the document. Send comments to the chair of the Ethics Committee.


  1. General
    1. The Society for Ethnomusicology, by addressing ethical concerns, hopes to stimulate ongoing dialogue and debate in order to gain increased understanding of ethical perspectives, and thus to respond as necessary to ethical issues in the changing discipline of ethnomusicology.
    2. The Society for Ethnomusicology acknowledges that ethical systems differ among ethnomusicologists and that the ethical values affirmed by these statements do not necessarily represent those of all practitioners of ethnomusicology everywhere.
    3. The Society for Ethnomusicology also acknowledges that ethical systems and values may differ between ethnomusicologists and their field consultants.
    4. These statements therefore serve as a formal acknowledgment of shared ethical standards of our profession. They recognize common ground while respecting differences in experience and perspective.
  2. Field Research
    As one of the human sciences, ethnomusicology has a particular responsibility to deal ethically with the people and communities that work with ethnomusicologists.
    1. Responsible conduct in field research in ethnomusicology is guided by the following obligations:
      1. Honesty in the representation of oneself and one’s work.
      2. Cultivation of relationships based on informed consent, rights of privacy and confidentiality, and mutual respect.
      3. Sensitivity to other cultures’ and individuals’ ethical values.
      4. Sensitivity to proprietary concerns regarding recorded materials, photographs, and other documentation.
      5. Awareness of the connection between proprietary concerns and economic interests, as well as anticipation of future conflicts that may be caused by one’s research activities.
    2. Ethnomusicologists acknowledge that the responsibilities of field research extend beyond the fieldwork setting and often involve a long-term commitment to the rights and concerns of field consultants and their communities.
    3. Ethnomusicologists acknowledge that field research may create or contribute to the basic conditions for future unanticipated, possibly exploitative, uses of recordings and other documentation. They recognize responsibility for their part in these processes and seek ways to prevent and/or address misuse of such materials when appropriate.
    4. Ethnomusicologists recognize the need to be informed regarding copyright and other laws pertaining to the ownership of intellectual and cultural property and to be aware of the potential protections and liabilities of contractual arrangements dealing with depositing, licensing, and distributing musical sound and audiovisual recordings.
  3. Publication
    Ethnomusicologists acknowledge their responsibility to share research data and findings through publication via various media, and, in these endeavors, to continue to maintain confidentiality agreements as well as give credit to consultants, colleagues, students, and others where appropriate.
  4. Education
    1. Ethnomusicologists accept their role as educators in both formal and informal teaching and training settings and, in their teaching, endeavor to include information about and discussion of ethical issues, particularly regarding field research.
    2. Ethnomusicologists accept the necessity of preparing students and trainees to make informed judgments regarding ethical matters in field situations, by making sure they acquire sufficient knowledge to understand the social, cultural, political, economic, and legal realities of the communities in which they plan to work, as well as the potential impact of the processes.


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