The term value neutrality was used by Weber to indicate the necessary objectivity researchers need when investigating problems in the natural sciences. Weber even though had introduced the term and accepted a scientific in the study of sociology, he did not believed that absolute objectivity is attainable.
Weber said that value neutrality should be the primary aim in sociology but it cannot be obtained since sociology is the study of human behaviors and society thus making it prone to personal views and value judgments. He recognized that values would influence the choice of topics for study. The reason for his claim was, sociologists had to choose from the vast knowledge in sociology to be studied. Inevitably, this will result value judgments to be made. Weber also believed that once a topic has been chosen, researchers should be objective in conducting experiments and proving their theories.
Objectivity means that the conclusions arrived at as the result of inquiry and investigation are independent of the race, colour, creed, occupation, nationality, religion, moral preference and political predisposition of the investigator. If hi research is truly objective, it is independent of any subjective elements, any personal desires, that he may have, Bierstedt (1963). Having said that, one can argue whether it is impossible for sociology to be value free because in order for it to become objective it has to confine itself to so many criteria and conditions. It seems as if it is impossible for sociology to be value free since it is the study of humanity and society which of course cannot be freed from making value judgment.
How can it be value free if it cannot be independent from bias in race, color, creed, occupation, nationality, religion, moral preference and political standings? Like Weber, Myrdal believed that objectivity is ideal to strive for but is difficult in fact almost impossible to attain. He based his argument on the fact that all scientists are prone to bias. For example the experiment conducted by Michael Lynch (1983) in a psycho-biological laboratory to show that scientists may be less objective that they claim. The scientists ignored other variables or discoveries in the experiment and categorize them as artifact (something produced in an experiment but does not exist in the phenomenon being studied). Some of the discoveries were held to be errors.
This proves that even science itself is not value free, what are the changes for sociology to be fully objective? Observers have their own interpretation and interest, so they will take actions in accordance with their interest. They will alter evidence, add variables and ignore other possibilities to prove their theories. Values enter the study of sociology even before any experiments or hypothesis being made. Researchers will find areas that they find suitable and significantly what they think play a greater role and have deeper impacts on sociology. Weber himself chose to study bureaucracy and the advent of capitalism since he believed that these two areas are more important in the Western societies. Peter Townsend chose to study poverty because he believed that it is an important issue in the society
Like Weber, Derek Philips believed that sociology cannot be fully objective. Unlike Weber, he argues that ‘An investigator’s values influence not only the problems he selects for study but also his methods for studying them and the sources of data he uses’.(Philips).
Even prominent sociologists like Karl Marx and Durkheim who claimed to have used scientific methods and applying objectivity in their studies could not be fully objective. Marxism has been criticized for encouraging its devotees to revolt and take actions to change the society. Functionalists have been accused of supporting the status quo and their researches to a certain extent, support and justify the positions privileges and actions of the ruling class.
Another condition for sociology to be free from values is its ability to separate social facts from values. Since sociology is the study of human nature, some sociologists believed that it cannot be obtained. According to Max Weber, individuals view the world from a value laden perspective. It is impossible to exclude feelings, personal views and judgments, since human beings the subject matter for sociology have feelings, emotions and consciousness.
For example, Karl Marx, the founder of Marxism believed that social stratification is not functional to society, defying many Functionalists’ claim. One can argue that Marx had just made a value judgment based on his own ideas on how the society should be run. It can also be argued that though social stratification is said to be supporting status quo, it is functional in maintaining social solidarity by providing the most important positions in society to the most highly motivated and qualified people.
Values and facts in the study of sociology cannot be separated. According to Alvin Gouldner, similar to a Minotaur, where the bull and the man cannot be separated, values enter every stage in sociology. Sociologists would inevitably use the concept of ‘domain assumption in their research. Domain assumption refers to the assumption made or things in the process of proving the theories that are taken for granted by the researches. Sociologists act on their taken for granted assumption. For example, functionalists claim that society is and will always be in the state of balanced and stabled. How do they know that society is always in the state of balance? Clearly their claim was based on assumption without any concrete proves.
According to Gouldner since value in the study of sociology are unavoidable the researchers need to declare and reveal it to others.. Though Durkheim in his study of suicide claimed to have used absolute scientific methods making his study value free, the use of statistical data was not sufficient enough to make it objective. His methods were said to resemble the realist method and not the positivist making it prone to arguments that his study was not objective.
In his Methodology of The Social Sciences, Weber stated that all knowledge of cultural reality is always from particular points of view. Weber also asserted that there can be no such thing as an absolutely ‘objective’ scientific analysis of culture or of social phenomena independent of special
The concept of value free sociology has its roots in the rise of positivism. According to positivists, sociology can and should be value free. In two areas, positivism differed from idealism. First it put great emphasis in the reliability of observation as the basis of theory and secondly is its emphasis on the search for factual regularities. According to positivists, since sociology is a branch in science, it must be seen as value free since it adopts scientific methods in carrying out its experiments and proving its theories. But it can be argued that simply because sociology adopts scientific methods, it may not be value free because values may come in every stages of the study of sociology. The Positivists based their arguments on the fact that researchers are detached from their research and their results can be verified against other social facts.
Phenomenologist on the other hand, do not believed that total objectivity in sociology is attainable since to them values enter every stage of sociology. According to phenomenologist, this world is categorized by human into phenomena. In the process of studying and understanding these phenomena, human being will continuously make sense of certain actions or events that happen everyday. Similarly, researchers will try to make sense of human behavior using their own interpretation. Phenomenologist believed that sociology ultimate aim is not to establish causal explanation or try to uncover the very mysteries of human life but to categorize and making sense of the actions committed by the social actors.
Becker believes that sociology cannot be value free. He believes that sociologists should decide whose side are they on. This is likely to be the anti-establishment side aligned with the ‘underdog’. Marxism emphasizes on studying social inequalities and conflict of interest, functionalism with its emphasis on finding ways to achieve stability in society and feminism emphasizes on patriarchal society.
Another reason why sociology cannot be freed from values is its dependency on funding bodies to conduct experiments and funding the research. Researchers are obliged to fulfill the interest of the funding bodies and may have little changes of crossing the line.
People are self-conscious and interactive making asking any questions problematic. People have prejudices and can misinterpret the questions given to them when conducting experiments. People also tend to say what they think the interviewer wants them to say. This is an example of the Hawthorn effect. Interviews also are affected by this phenomena, and again the questions need to be very carefully structured so that the same questions can be asked of many groups of people and balanced quantifiable data extracted. These questions need to allow for interviewer bias. These factors will render the result thus making the aim for objectivity in sociology unachievable.
Positivists claimed that sociology should be value free to produce reliable, accurate and credible knowledge. By becoming value free it can produce objective and impartial knowledge without any biasness to solve social problems. For example, if sociology is needed to explain social stratification, it can provide answers without any intervention from external forces that may use it to fulfill their own interest. Sociology needs to be value free to increase human capacity and their ability to solve problems. For example, one might say that the reason why there has been an increase in the rate of sexual assault is because woman these days wear attires that are not appropriate. This claim has an element of biasness in it. Feminists may argue this claim to a certain extent put all the blame on women. One must be freed from any values for his claim or arguments to be accepted by all parties.
According to Auguste Comte, by becoming value free, sociology can be used to improve and run society rationally without the intervention of religion and superstition. This will enable progressive growth and development of society.
Sociology should be value free in order for it to be accepted by all people regardless of races, religions or status. There may be biasness towards a race or a religion if sociology is not freed from values. This will only cause more problems in the world. A group of people may feel more superior than other groups. For example, the Nazi believed that their race(Aryan) is more superior than the Jewish. Having such feelings, they believed that the Jews need to be eliminated from the world.
Sociology needs to be a value free so that it can distinguish itself from other types of knowledge and emerge as the pinnacle of science. If sociology cannot be value free, it will not be accepted by other branches of science as a science. Sociology will be like any other subject for example history or moral studies…static without any progression.
There are however views that sociology should not be value free. They based their assumption on the fact that total objectivity is impossible. To a certain extent, sociology should not confine itself to objectivity since the subject matter of sociology, the human beings have consciousness, emotion and mind of their own. Sociologists deal with society, a complex form of institution that comprises of individuals who have different characteristics, each one with different personalities, the very essence of sociology is to explore human behavior. How can this be done without exploring their minds and how can researchers arrive at a conclusion without to a certain extent relying on their own value judgment. By becoming value free, sociology will not be able to fully asses and perform in- depth and holistic studies on human behavior.
By becoming value free, sociology will become a rigid form of knowledge. Researchers may ignore other possibilities that do not suit their paradigms. They may also ignore findings that they obtained through their experiment but are not in line with the methods or interest.
As a conclusion, I believed that sociology must have a certain amount of objectivity in it. To a certain extent by becoming objective, sociology can provide better answers to the many questions in the social world. It is not wrong for sociologists to interpret a social phenomenon using their own value judgment and leave other people to interpret it based on their own ideas and judgment. Phil Carspecken argued that by not being value free does not means the researchers cannot be impartial in their studies.
Values exist in every part of sociology. Value is the very element that differentiates sociology from other branches of science. It’s the very element that enables sociology to study human behavior with accuracy.
All in all, I believed that to certain extent sociology should not be totally value free. Maybe in some areas, values can be excluded so that it can be accepted as science and most importantly so that it can produce reliable, impartial and credible answers to various social problems.
Courtney from Study Moose
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