Sociology can and should be value free

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  • Created on: 18-03-15 15:14
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"Sociology can and should be value free" To what extent do sociological arguments and evidence supports
this claim.
If sociology has any claim to be scientific then it has to be free of personal and political bias. Positivists argue
that the nature of sociology is no different to the natural sciences and therefore has a strong claim to be value
and objective. Positivists draw a distinction between scientific and `common sense' thinking. They must seek
to uncover facts about the world and describe them neutrally and believe Sociology must completely distance
itself from any sort of values, so it can claim to be scientific. There is a strong emphasis on `valueneutral'
methods such as quantitative surveys or structured interviews. Values are seen as nonempirical and
unscientific and could only be mere emotional outbursts. Some sociologists believe that only when their
research is scientific and value free, as in the natural science, it would be taken seriously.
Durkheim was aware that out values and ideas are very influential; however, he believed that empirical
detachment was a precondition for scientific knowledge. Durkheim looked for social facts and laws in society
and believed this would only be achieved through scientific methods. Alternatively Comte described Sociology
as being the `Queen of Sciences'. By this he meant Sociology should be value free. He argued that you could
be value laden when choosing a topic and research method but sociologists should analyse the facts in an
objective way.
Alongside this viewpoint there are several criticisms; particularly of positivism. According to other sociologists,
the natural sciences are not as value free as they may seem as scientists are also human beings ­ rivalry,
fashion, cost, time and desire to be successful can influence their research. Comte is generally seen as the
champion of value freedom...however, he argued the point of sociology is to change and improve society,
which is ignored in the spirit of detachment of modern positivism. Positivist sociology is not as value free as it
claims, seeing as Marxists, Feminists and Functionalists clearly all have values. Gouldner argues that Weber
was influenced by personal and political value that he claimed should be left out of Sociology. Weber was
writing at the time of the Prussian government making strong arracks on intellectual freedom. According to
Gouldner, Weber was trying to prevent the government interfering in Sociology by claiming it was valuefree.
In a sense, Weber was attempting to `protect' Sociology.
Alternatively, Interpretivists believe that Sociology cannot and should not be value free. They disagree with his
view that it is possible to devise methods and techniques of research which will make some degree of value
freedom possible. Humans will inevitably be selective in what they see, rather than observing objectively and
being value neutral. What Sociologists choose to observe and how they see, classify and interpret the world all
depends crucially upon their preexisting beliefs about the world. The methods they choose do not allow for
value freedom.
Gomm argues the very idea of Sociology, which is a social activity, being value free is unsociological.
Gouldner, in his work "AntiMinotaur: the myth of a value free Sociology", argues that the separation of facts
and values is as impossible as, as is the separation of the man by the beast in the mythological creature, the
Minotaur. Gouldner argues that they are parts of the same entity. PostModernists argue value free, objective,
scientific research does not provide the `absolute truth'
A final argument is Committed Sociology, which is the view that Sociology should have its own set of explicit
values which underpin the subject. That Sociology should not be value free BUT should have values/morals.
Becker argued that Sociology has traditionally focused on the powerful, for example, the social worker, doctor
etc., but NOT the client or `mental patient'. Becker claimed it is not a question of whether we should take sides,
more importantly, whose side we are on. He believed that sociologists should have values and should stand
Zoe Leek

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However, Marxists believe that the role of sociology is to uncover the ways
the bourgeoisie control the proletariat, so they can eventually overthrow capitalism in a revolution. Feminists
such as Stanley and Wise argue the point of Sociology is to highlight gender based inequalities in society.
They state that feminist researchers should reject orthodox freedom.…read more


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