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Durham University

Policy, Professions and Communities Research Group


Publication details for Professor Sarah Banks

Banks, S. (2018). Cultivating researcher integrity: virtue-based approaches to research ethics. In Virtue ethics in the conduct and governance of social science research. Emmerich, N. Bingley: Emerald. 3: 21-44.

Author(s) from Durham


This chapter presents a virtue-based approach to research ethics which both complements and challenges dominant principle- and rule-based ethical codes and governance frameworks. Virtues are qualities of character that contribute to human and ecological flourishing, focussing on the dispositions and motivations of moral agents (in this case, researchers) as opposed to simply their actions. The chapter argues for the usefulness of ‘researcher integrity’, in the context of increasing interest internationally in ‘research integrity’ frameworks for regulating research practice. ‘Researcher integrity’ is analysed, including weak and strong versions of the concept (conduct according to current standards, versus reflexive commitment to ideals of what research should be at its best). Researcher integrity in its stronger sense is depicted as an overarching complex virtue, holding together and balancing other virtues such as courage, care, trustworthiness, respectfulness and practical wisdom. Consideration is given to educating researchers and university students as virtuous researchers, rather than simply ensuring that rules are followed and risks minimised. Several approaches are outlined, including Socratic dialogue, to develop attentiveness and respectfulness and participatory theatre to rehearse different responses to ethical challenges in research. Some limitations of virtue ethics are noted, including dangers of reinforcing a culture of blaming researchers for institutional failings, and its potential to be co-opted by those who wish to indoctrinate rather than cultivate virtues. Nevertheless, it is an important counter-weight to current trends that see research ethics as entailing learning sets of rules and how to implement them (to satisfy institutional research governance requirements), rather than processes of critical and responsible reflection.