objectivity and values


Early positivists

  • possible and desrable for sociologists to keep values out of research 
  • sociologists job to discover truth about how society worked and improve human life

COMTE-sociology was 'queen of sciences' and meant sociology should and could follow natural science hypothetico model being non-ideological, objective, value free

DURKHEIM-aware our values are very influential but believed empirical detachment was precondition for scientific knowledge. Believed that 'social facts' and laws in society only found through scientific methods and value freedom

MARX-saw himself as scientist and believed he used science to discover truth about society's future and the inevitability of a classless society 

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  • unlike comte+durkheim- distinguishes between value judgment and facts
  • a value can neither be proved or disproved by a fact,they are different.e.g. fact= divorcees more likely to commit suicide. values= make divorce harder to obtain, instead make it harder to marry, people have right to commit -none of these value judgements are proven by the fact
  • Sociology should be value free but it's hard to discard values and they could be useful: 

1. value as a guide to research- only select areas of study that have value relevance to us e.g. feminists value gender equality so research feminism 

2. data collection and hypothesis testing-must be objective when collecting facts e.g. not asking leading questions and hypothesis must stand or fall on if it fits observed facts

3. values in interpretation of data-facts need to be set in theortical framework in order to draw conclusions and our choice of framework is influenced by our values so we must explicitly state them so others can see if there is an unconsious bias in our interpretation 

4. values and the sociologist as a citizen- sociologists are citizens and shouldn't dodge moral and political issues their work raises by hiding behind 'objectivity' or 'value freedom' and should take responsibility for the harm their research may do

  • values are relevant when chosing research, interpreting data and use of findings are put to but not in the process of actually collecting the facts 
  • sociologists can tell us what means to adopt if we want to achieve certain goals that we value  and the consequenses of holding these values e.g. hold view that racial discrimination is good but sociology shows that makes economyl less effective by preventig talented people from doing important jobs 
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Value freedom and commitment -20th century positiv

their own values are irrelevant to research due to:

1.desire to appear scientific-science concerned with matter of fact not value and sociologists should simply establish truth not praise or condemn 

-this relfects the desire for sociology to be a science and respectable in society like science is

2. social postition of sociology-GOULDNER- by 1950's american sociologists esp. started hiring themselves out to organisations lke gov. and military to become 'problem takers' instead of 'problem makers' and by leaving values behind they made 'gentlemens promise' to paymasters

-because they hired themselves out they saw their own values as irrelevant -dodging moral responsibility as Weber critisised 

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Internal criticisms of positivism and value freedo

  • natural sciences not value free-human have rivalry, fashion,cost,time desire to succeed that can influence research. May hide research that contradicts hypothesis
  • COMTE-argues sociology is to improve society which is ignored by modern positivists 
  • is it value free? DURKHEIM had values to chose suicide as his friend killed himself
  • GOULDER- Weber influenced by personal and political views- Weber was writing at time of German gov. making attacks on intellectual freedom and he was trying to prevent it interfeing in sociology by claiming it was value free
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Interpretivists -committed sociology

  • sociology cannot and should not be value free-undesirable 
  • humans will inevitably be selective in what they see rather than observing objectively 
  • what they choose to observe,see and interpret will depend on their pre-existing beliefs 
  • sociologists should be concerned with validity and accuracy not with value freedom in their research 

GOMM-sociology being value free is unsociological 

MYRDAL- sociologists should spell out their values and 'take sides' by adopting values and interests of particular groups or individuals 

GOULDNER- neither possible or desriable  to be value free as value free sociology is:

  • impossible- own values or those of paymasters are bound to be reflected in work
  • undesirable- without values sociologists are just putting their services at disposal of highest bidder and this could be bad
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BECKER- who's side are we on?

  • sociology should have values
  • committed sociology= sociology should have its own set of values that underpins subject
  • sociology focused on powerful e.g police, doctor, social worker but not the criminals, client,patient
  • we shouldn't take sides like like Gouldner says but we should have values and stand up for the underdogs 

Becker-Synoptic link-labelling theory in crime and deviance 

METHODS LINK- Participant observations favoured by interactionists which identifies with powerless and reveals meanings of them

GOULDNER- criticises Becker for romantisising disadvantaged groups- misunderstood, negatively labelled 

-instead adopts marxist perpective and argues we should take side of those who are 'fighting back' and sociology should not confine itself to describing view point of underdog 

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funding and careers

  • most research is funded by government, businesses etc. and controls it, so the work is likely to embody values and interests of paymasters 
  • funding bodies may prevent publication if findings disagree with their view e.g black report releases on bank holiday by conservative gov to reduce publicity 
  • sociologists may want to further their careers and so may change the topic they research and may chose something in fashion over what is needed
  • sociologists may censor themselves incase they harm their career 
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perpectives and methods

GOULDNER-all research inevitably influenced by values.

  • values influence different topics that sociologists of different perspectives chose, concepts they develope and conclusions they reach e.g. functionalists and maxists conclude different things about inequality in society- func=beneficial marx=produces exploitation 
  • sociologists values influence methods e.g. Becker wanted to understand underdog means he choses qualatitive methods to find meaning 

-func dont critic statistics because they tend to take side of establishment but marxists would be critical as they believe they have ideologies etc.

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objectivity and relativism

  • if all perspectives involve values aren't their findings just reflection of their values and not truth of society? RELATIVISM:
  • different groups and people have different views on what is true and sees world through own values, perspectives, concepts etc
  • no way of judging whether any view is truer than any other

-no absolute or objective truth just truthS

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Relativism and postmodernism

  • postmodernism takes a relativist view - no one account of society and no 'privileged accounts' that are superior
  • any perspective claiming truth is just a meta-narrative based on values and assumptions 

X- postmodernism therefore is itself just a meta-narrative and so why should we believe what they say either? its self-defeating 

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