Objectivity and values in sociology

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Values and sociology

All members of society including sociologis - have values, beliefs and opinions.

Some argue it's both possible and desirable for sociologists to keep their subjective views OUT OF research.

Others argue staying value-neutral impossible as sociologists are humans studying other humans.

Some argue it's desirable for sociologists to use their values to improve society.

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The classical sociologists and values

Early positivists, Comte & Durkheim - sociology's job was to discover truth about how society worked and to improve human life.

Sociologists would be able to say with scientific certainty what was best for society.

Marx saw himself as scientist - believed he had discovered truth about society's future + inevitability of classless society.

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Max Weber

Argues a value can neither be proven or disproved by the facts - they belong to different realms. However, still sees essential role for values in sociological research.

1. Values as a guide to research - we can only select areas of study in terms of their value relevance to us.

2. Data collection & hypothesis testing - must be objective as possible when actually collecting facts, e.g. not asking leading questions.

3. Values in the interpretation of data - facts need to be set in theoretical framework to understand thier significance. influenced by sociologist's values, must therefore be stated expicitly.

4. Values and the sociologist as a citizen - scientists & sociologists also citizens, cannot dodge moral issues their work raises or uses it is put to by hiding behind value freedom.

Weber thus sees values as relevant when choosing what to research, when interpreting data and in use the findings are put to - but they must be kept out of actual process of gathering data.

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Value freedom & commitment

20th century positivists - argued their own values irrelevant to their research as science concerned with matters of fact, not value, so sociologists should remain morally neutral.

Gouldner - by the 1950s, American sociologists in particular had become mere spiritless technicians hiring themselves out to organisations such as government and the military. For him, they were dodging moral issues that their work raised, e.g. in helping to prevent revolutions in South America.

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Committed sociology

Myrdal & Gouldner argue sociologists should not only identify their values, should openly also tkae sides espousing interests of actual groups.

Undesirable to be value neutral since, without values to guide research, sociologists merely putting their services up for sale.

BUT, if all sociology is influenced by values, whos side are we on? (Becker)

Functionalists & positivists taken viewpoint of powerfuk: police, psychiatrists etc.

Becker argues we should tkae side of underdog: criminals, mental patients etc. Identfiying with powerless links to the methods interactionists favour, e.g. PO, which they see as revealing the meanings of these 'outsiders'.

Gouldner - adopts Marx perspective, arguing it's not enough to describe the underdog's life, sociologists should be committed to ending their oppression. ACCORDING to him, shouldn't be celebrating 'man on his back', we should be supporting man fighting back.

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Funding and careers

Most research funded by government, business etc, and who pays for research may control direction & questions it asks.

Funding bodies may prevent publication of research if findings prove it unacceptable.

Sociologists may want to further their careers. May influence their topic choice.

May censor themselves for fear of harming their career.

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Values, perspectives and methods

Gouldner - all research is influenced by values.

Values influence topics that sociologists of different perspectives choose, the concepts they develop and conclusions they reach.

Sociologists values influence choice of methods; e.g. Becker's support for underdog leads him to choose qualitative methods to reveal underdog's world.

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Objectivity and relativism

If all perspectives involve values, are their findings just a reflection of their values, not objective facts? Relativism argues that:

different groups and individuals have different views as to what is true + these reflect their own values and interests.

No way of judging whether any view is truer than any other.

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Relativism & postmodernism

Postmodernists take a relativist view - no 'privileged accounts' of society that have special access to the truth.

From relativist standpoint, no single absolute or objective truth. What you believe to be true is true to you.

Any perspective claiming to have truth is meta-narrative or 'big story' based on values and assumptions.

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