Subjectivity, objectivity, and value freedom (A value-free sociology is…
Subjectivity, objectivity, and value freedom
A value free society is desirable and possible
Sociology should be value-free
Comte and Durkheim
- sociology should be value-free in order to give the subject the status and authority that would enable it to be regarded as a source of impartial, objective, information, in the same way the sciences were
Sociology can be value-free
Comte and Durkheim
- sociology could be objective and value-free so long as it used similar methods to those used in the natural sciences
Through the study of social facts and the collection of empirical quantitative data using a hypothetico-deductive scientific method, it was possible to test theories using reliable and valid data, which would be checked/ replicated, establish the cause of social behaviour, uncover the laws of human society, and make predictions.
A value-free sociology is not possible: the myth of value-freedom
It is impossible for any natural or social scientist to avoid the influence of values completely, through their academic training, the paradigm or perspective they have learnt, and evaluating evidence, their assumptions about society, and their beliefs about what are important or unimportant areas to study are all sources of values.
We need theoretical frameworks so that people know what to observe and what methods to use.
The different assumptions of sociologists - subjective value judgments - guide the selection of what is regarded as a worthwhile topic or problem for investigation, the questions to be asked, the research methods employed, what types of data, and what information is interpreted and selected as 'significant' and what is not.
The personal prejudices and political views of the researcher may influence the selection of the subjects studied
A value-free sociology is not desirable: the need for value-commitment
Value freedom as ideology
- it is not possible to be free from value judgements in sociology, but value-freedom is a value-laden subject
Value freedom is an ideology that serves the career interests of sociologists who will take funding from anyone and sell their research to the highest bidders.
Whose side are you on?
echoed Goulderns argument when he challenged sociologists to ask themselves the question 'whose side are you on?'.
No knowledge is value-free, all knowledge must favour somebody, and therefore we have to chose whom to favour.
Research should not be neutral, but ought to be driven by a desire to change and improve the world.
Postmodernism and the values debate
- the objectivity and value-freedom debate simply reflects the values and assumptions of competing sociologists.
There is no objective truth, and all forms of knowledge are social constructions, all involve values, none are more objective or valuable than others, all are equally valid
The assertion of the importance of value-free knowledge is simply an attempt by some groups who may have more power than others to establish their interpretation as the only true or valid approach to studying sociology.
Sociology, whether or not it claims to be value-free, is just another metanarrative claiming its knowledge and understanding of the world is better than other forms of knowledge
Conclusions - 3 ways we can accept the existence of values
Values can't (and some would say it shouldn't) be avoided when choosing the topic to research, but values and personal prejudices should never be allowed to enter the research process itself or allowed to distort or manipulate data collection.
- the topic chosen is bound to refelct what the sociologist thinks is important, and also the values of those funding the research.
But once these value judgements have been made, sociologists should tackle research with an open mind and consider all the evidence in a detached and fair-minded way.
Values and personal prejudices should be considered when examining the ethics of research
Findings should be open to inspection, criticism, debate and testing by other researchers