Topic 4: Objectivity & Values in Sociology

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  • Topic 4: Objectivity & Values in Sociology
    • Classical Sociologists & values
      • Durkheim (functionalist, positivist) - saw sociology as a science; quantitative research would uncover laws that would solve social problems. Research should be objective and value free.
      • Marx predicted an evolution through a series of different types of class-bases societies, leading ultimately to a future class’s communist society, in which exploitation, alienation and poverty would be ended; each individual would be free to achieve their true potential.
        • Interpretivists-sociology isn’t a science; humans have free will and choice.
      • Webbers 4 stages of research:
        • 1. Values as a guide to research- select item that we feels is important based on our own values- value relevance e.g. feminists; value gender equality so study patriarchy and women’s oppression.
        • 2. Data collection & hypothesis testing- objective and unbiased as possible when we’re collecting facts, keeping value and prejudices out of process.
        • 3. Values in the interpretation of data- choice of theoretical framework/ perspective is influenced by our values; must be explicit about them, spelling out our values so that others can see if unconscious bias is present in our interpretation of data.
        • 4. Values and the sociology as a citizen- scientists and sociologists are also human beings and citizens and they must not dodge political issues their work raises by hiding behind words such as objectivity or value freedom; must take moral responsibility for the harm their research may do.
    • Key Concepts
      • Feminism- society based on gender inequality & promotes rights of women
      • Functionalism- society as harmonious & espouses conservative values that favour the status quo.
      • Marxism- society as conflict-ridden and strives for a classless society
      • Relativism is the view that knowledge claims are not absolutely true or false, but true for those who believe them. Postmodernists take a relativist view and argue any perspective that claims to have the truth is a ‘meta-narrative’ or big story’.
      • Paymaster- thoes who fund research,; research likely to be influenced by paymasters values and intrests
      • Value freedom- idea that values can ans should be kept out of research
    • Value freedom & commitment
      • Modern positivists unlike Durkheim, saw own values as irrelevant to research due to two reasons- desire to appear scientific & the social position of sociology
      • Gouldner criticised them for being money and career orientated, taking on work given by paymasters and not ‘rocking the boat’ by reaching conclusions they would not like. Weber would argue they should take moral responsibility for the effects of their work.
      • Committed sociologists argue that neither possible nor desirable to keep values out of research. Should take sides of who’s ‘fighting back’ the political radical’s struggling to change society.
        • Impossible; because either sociologists own/ paymasters values will be reflected in their work
        • Possible; since without values to guide research, sociologists merely selling services to the highest bidder
      • Goulder argue that there’s no reason why one cannot sell his knowledge to spread a disease just as freely as he can to fight it. Indeed, some sociologists have had no hesitation about doing market research designed to sell more cigarettes, although well aware of the implication of recent cancer research.
      • Becker argues we should take  side of the underdogs- the criminals, mental patients and other powerless groups; their story needs to be told to balance, by giving them a voice can reveal a previously hidden side of social reality.
        • Myrdal and Goulder argue Becker has a romantic and sentimental approach to disadvantage groups- the results of the research will do little change capitalist society.
      • Funding and careers; the body that pay for the research controls the direction it takes and questions it asks- and fails to ask. Sociologist work is likely to embody the values and interests of their paymasters.
      • Postmodernists take a relative view of knowledge; reject the idea that any on account of the social world is superior. All knowledge whatever perspective, is based on values and assumptions and thus no one can tell us what is true.
  • Marx predicted an evolution through a series of different types of class-bases societies, leading ultimately to a future class’s communist society, in which exploitation, alienation and poverty would be ended; each individual would be free to achieve their true potential.
    • Interpretivists-sociology isn’t a science; humans have free will and choice.

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