Sociology and values

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Assess the view that values can and should be kept out of sociological research. (33 marks) Some argue that it is both possible and desirable to keep values out of research in the same way as natural scientists are said to do. Only in this way can we produce true, scientific knowledge about society. Others argue that, because sociologists are humans with values, studying other humans with values, it is impossible to keep personal values out of ones research. Some go further arguing that it is actually desirable for sociologists to use their values to improve society through their work. Early positivists such as Comte and Durkheim argued the creation of a better society was not a matter of subjective values or personal opinions about what was ‘best'. As the science of society, sociology’s job was to discover the truth about how society works, uncovering the laws that govern its proper functioning. Equipped with this knowledge, social problems could be solved and human life improved. For these early Positivists values can and should be kept out of sociological research For Weber values have an essential role in sociological research. He sees values as relevant to the sociologist in choosing what to research, in interpreting the data collected, and as a citizen and member of society in deciding the use to which the findings should be put. By contrast, the sociologist's values must be kept out of the actual process of gathering the facts. Weber’s account is very perceptive and much more realistic than that of the positivists. For Weber then values are relevant at different stages but must be kept out of the actual resource process In contemporary sociology the positivists have shied away from value commitment, but the Marxists, feminists and interactionists have argued for a committed sociology, in which the sociologist spells out the importance of their personal values to their research. For Myrdal (1969) sociologists should not only spell out their values, as Weber recommends, they should also openly 'take sides' of particular individuals or groups. Myrdal and Gouldner argue that a value-free sociology is impossible, because either the sociologist's own values, or those of their paymasters, are bound to be reflected in their work. It is also undesirable, since without values to guide research, sociologists are merely putting their services at the disposal of the highest bidder. If sociology was value free there is no reason why a sociologist cannot sell his/her knowledge to spread a disease

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