The present issue brings the last report from the FF Summer School held in Turku in August 1999. It has been authored by the members of Workshop IV, which concentrated on folkloristic research ethics. Ethics represents an ocean of dilemmas, ideal and real, concerning values, norms and attitudes prevalent in the research process from the collection of folkloristic data through fieldwork to its publication and use. There are three published ethical codes of conduct in folklore work by way of rules and recommendations. Each has a different focus. One deals with copyright (Draft Treaty for the Protection of Expressions of Folklore Against Illicit Exploitation and Other Prejudicial Actions), one with the preservation of folklore documents and the processes of their creation and use (Recommendation on the Safeguarding of Traditional Culture and Folklore, 1989), while the third addresses the behaviour of the professional folklorist (A Statement of Ethics for the American Folklore Society, 1988). The closest cognates to these three are half-a-dozen anthropological codes of ethics. Also relevant are, of course, several more broadly humanistic and social-scientific codes, as well as the basic tenets of the ethical codes defined for scientists in general.

Workshop IV limited this easily expanding circle of ethical codes to ten in order to compare cognate codes in the hope of assessing the need for the further production of folkloristic codes of ethics. The result of the comparison was mixed insofar as it seemed that while rules may be needed to make scholars aware of the dimensions of ethical conduct, it would be futile to assume that written codes can solve the ethical problems encountered in the field. Problems and their solutions are always situational, embedded in the legal environments created by local, national and organisational codes capable of making general ethical recommendations momentarily inadequate or dysfunctional. This realisation need not lead to “regional and situational relativism” in research ethics, but it does underline that there is no substitute for continuous and alert observation, judgement and decision-making in ethical matters as they emerge and confront the scholar in his daily work. In this respect, all disciplines seem to stand on the same line.

Yet there remains the justified quest for a typically folkloristic contribution to the debate on ethics. Our professional experience should provide observations on special dimensions of ethics not easily attainable even in neighbouring disciplines. Workshop IV was not the only group to cultivate this line of thought, which appeared in discussions with other groups such as Workshop I (Politics of Textualisation) and Workshop III (Fieldwork and Archiving). The future may show whether, for example, our concern with verbal art, the process of its oral and written textualisation and the preservation of the “voice” will constitute the core of our contribution.

Lauri Honko
(FFN 20, November 2000: 1 )

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