Sociology and Values - Essay Points

Notes about what to put in the theory & method question which involves one of three debates:

  1. Sociology and science
  2. Sociology and values
  3. Sociology and state policy

This set of cards is on sociology and values


The arguments

There are a number of arguments as to whether sociology should have values or not:

  • On the one hand positivists suggest that sociology should be a value free affair and should be kept strictly scientific
  • Other sociologists claim that sociology is value laden and inevitably will contain the values of the researcher
  • Some sociologists however suggest that values should be put into sociology in order to make a difference in society
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Sociology is value free

There are a number of sociologists that suggest that sociology should be as value free as possible. There sociologists are usually from a positivist packground who want sociology to be a science:

  • Positivists want sociology to be a science which means being strictly objective to the subject matter
  • This reflects the ideas behind the traditional physical sciences
  • These structuralist theorists suggest that society is a separate entity which may be studied objectively. They use statistical data from a range of sources to establish 'social facts' which should accurately reflect society
  • Positivists claim that personal oppinions should be easily kept out of sociolgical research providing the research is designed properly
  • Research is either confirmed or falsefied by repeating research
  • Peter Saunders - declaired his own viewpoint but designed his research to avoid this issue.
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Sociology is value laden

There are a number of sociologists who identify reasons why sociology is value laden:

  • Historical context - historically sociology whould have had to reflect traditional sciences (Gouldner)
  • Paying for research - The person paying for the research decides what is published 
  • Career tajectories - sociologists are interested in career progression (Gouldner)
  • Personal beleifs and interests - All rational thinking is based off personal interests
  • The domain of sociology - Sociology has to 'compete' with natural sciences (Colins and Pinch - parapsychology)
  • The postmodern critique - Scientific thinking is only one way of explaining the world. Other narratives exist. (Leotard and Baudrillard)
  • Foucault - Powerful groups impose their dominance on society in the modern period this was scientific thought.
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Committed sociology

These are the sociologists who suggest that values should come into research in order to achieve a specific goal within society.

  • Sociologists such as Becker and Gouldner - Becker suggests that we should aim to study the less powerful in society in order to help them while Gouldner suggests that we study the very powerful in society
  • Marxists such as Althuser suggest that sociological research should be used to expose the exploitation within teh capitalist system and help those who are exploited.
  • Feminists suggest that all their research aims to do is to create better gender balance by exposing patriarchy within society. Hammersly suggests that there are certain key aspects to all feminist research such as ensuring there is no power imbalance betweeen the researcher and the subject.
  • Left realists look for solutions to inequality within the current capitalist system and use their research as a tool to do this.
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More Information

This resource was deisgned to provide a basic essay structure and some reminder bullet points for close to the exam and relies on some background knowledge. If you need more information please check out my notes from in class:

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