Ethics of Fieldwork


The primary value informing our relationships with community partners should be respect. Respect requires that we be aware of the effects of power and coercion. Respect also requires awareness of the types of relationship that are appropriate in the campus-community partnership.

Consider the Following:

  • Appropriate boundaries can be difficult to maintain.
    • Before you start your Praxis fieldwork or other campus-community project, be sure you are clear about your role. Some of your responsibilities may involve providing certain types of assistance to the organization or to the people served by that organization. Think and ask before going beyond the kinds of activities you are authorized to do, even if community members ask you to. For instance:
      • It is inappropriate to date community partners.
      • Ask the placement coordinator or faculty member before giving out any personal information such as your address or telephone number.
      • Do not give community partners rides in your car or drive them to appointments unless that is explicitly part of your placement.
      • If individuals ask for assistance beyond what your placement provides, ask someone at the community agency or on campus how to direct the individual to appropriate sources of help. (See also the section on professionalism.)
  • Community partners are individuals with valuable knowledge and life experiences.
    • Community partnerships bring us in contact with, for example, intravenous drug users, sex workers, or homeless individuals. You do not have to approve of how people live their lives. But you are responsible for treating the people you meet as equals. Respect their experience, skills and dignity. This is the ethical approach, and it opens important avenues for learning.
  • Community partners are not exotic specimens.
    • We want to learn about people who are different from ourselves, but we may not treat others as curiosities. In addition, we must be careful not to assume that the few individuals we meet are typical or representative of a group.
  • You might run into someone you know.
    • Placements sometimes put us in contact with people we know from other contexts. In many cases this can make it difficult to maintain confidentiality and to maintain appropriate boundaries. If you find yourself in this situation, be kind and speak to a supervisor on site and on campus right away to find an appropriate way to proceed.