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Sociology: Objectivity and Values

This presentation will help you revise the objectivity and values section of the theory and methods section of A2 Sociology.
by

Jordan Pitchford

on 14 December 2012

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Transcript of Sociology: Objectivity and Values

Objectivity and
Values Some argue that it is possible and desirable to keep sociological research value-free, in the same way that the natural sciences are. This is the only way we can produce scientific knowledge about society. Others argue that because sociologists are humans with values, studying other humans with values, it is impossible to keep personal, subjective values out of one's research. Some also argue that it is desirable for sociologists to use their own values to improve their work. Assess the view that values can and should be kept out of sociological research. (33 Marks) Early Positivists Sociology can and should be scientific and value-free. Comte and Durkheim argued that the creation of a better society wasn't about subjective values or personal opinions, but 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. Max Weber Values are important, but should be absent during data collection. For Weber, values have an essential role in sociological research. He sees values as relevant to the sociologist in choosing what to research and interpreting collected data. By contrast, the sociologist's values must be kept out of the actual process of gathering the facts. Weber's account is very good 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 data collection. Committed sociology Sociologists should openly 'take sides'. Myrdal and Gouldner argue that a value-free sociology is impossible and undesirable. For Myrdal, sociologists should not only spell out their values but should also openly 'take sides' of particular groups or individuals. Myrdal also argues that a value-free sociology is impossible, because either the sociologist's own 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 reasons why a sociologist can not sell their knowledge to spread a disease just as freely as they can to fight it. Based on this, values should not be kept out of sociology. Whose side are we on? Goffman - Take the side of the underdog
Gouldner - Take the side of the political radicals fighting back If sociology is influenced by values it follows that sociologists must take sides. According to Goffman, to describe the situation of a mental patient, the sociologist must take their side. We have to be biased in favour of the patient and against the psychiatrist in order to emphasise and identify with the powerless. They have a strong preference for qualitative methods such as participant observation, which they see as revealing the meanings of these 'outsiders'. Gouldner is critical of Goffman arguing that instead of taking the side of the underdog, we should take the side of the 'freedom fighters', struggling to change society. It is clear from both arguments, however, that values should not be kept out of sociology. Funding & Careers The body that pays might control the direction of research. The body paying for sociological research may control the direction that the research takes, and the kind of questions it asks. A good example is the Black Report into class inequalities in health - the conservative government arranged for its release on a specific date in the hope that it would reduce the publicity received, because the report's findings ran against the government's views. Sociologists may also wish to further their careers and reputations, which may influence their choice of topic, research methods, and how they interpret their findings. Essentially; a sociologist's work is likely to embody the values and interests of their paymasters. Perspectives Feminism sees society as based on gender inequality so it promotes women's rights.
Functionalism sees society as harmonious, so espouses conservative values.
Marxism sees sociey as conflict-ridden, and strives for a classless society. Different sociological perspectives can be seen to express different assumptions and values about how society is or should be for example; Feminism sees society as being based on gender inequality, so promotes women's rights. Functionalism sees society as being harmonious, and thus promotes conservative values that favour the 'status quo', whereas Marxism sees society as conflict-ridden and strives for a classless society.
Clearly, then, these values will influence the topics sociologists research, the concepts they develop and the conclusions they reach. Methods Different sociologists may choose their preferred research methods, which will produce results in their favour. There is also a link between the kinds of methods a sociologist will use and their value stance. Interactionists' preference for qualitative methods fits with their desire to empathise with the underdog, since such methods give them access to the actor's meanings and worldview. Functionalist and Positivist tendency to take the side of the 'establishment' and see things from the point of view of those in authority fits well with their uncritical acceptance of official statistics produced by government departments. Both Interactionists and Functionalists can be accused of selecting methods that produce facts that reflect their values and outlook. Objectivity & Relativism All knowledge is based on values, thus no perspective has any special claim to the truth. For relativists such as postmodernists all knowledge is based on values. Different groups, cultures and individuals, including sociologists, have different views as to what is true. Each one sees the world in their own distinctive ways, through their own perspectives, concepts. values and interests. There is no independent way of judging whether any view is truer than another. Conclusion It is clear there are several different arguments about the relationship between sociology and values. It appears most sociologists recognise that values do play an important part in research despite the positivist contention to the contrary. Perhaps Weber offers the most notable account and he sets out a clear framework for sociologists to follow. He recognises that it is impossible to conduct research in a value-free way as Gouldner does, but at the same time he also suggests that these values must be transparent, and when data has been collected the sociologist should aim towards value freedom.
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