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Values: Handout Booklet


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Values: Handout Booklet

  1. 1. OBJECTIVITY AND VALUES IN SOCIOLOGY(see text books page 270-275) In JUNE 2011 the 33 marks THEORY & METHODS question was: Q4 ‘Sociology can be value-free and should be value-free.’ To what extent do sociological arguments and evidence support this claim? Another very similar 33 mark question is: Q4 ‘Assess the view that values can and should be kept out of sociological research’ The material in this booklet is designed to enable YOU to successfully tackle these or similar questions in the exam. INTRODUCTION One view of science is that it produces ‘true’ knowledge. According to this view scientists take a detached and objective approach (impartial, neutral, unbiased) to their research. They don’t allow their subjectivevalues (biased, prejudiced or one-sided views) to get in the way of discovering the facts. Values- what exactly are values and why are they important in Sociology? Every member of society has values. Values can be defined in various ways: • beliefs, opinions and prejudices about right or wrong, or good or bad.Cherished beliefs • Ideas or beliefs that are thought to be valuable by those who hold them • Views often linked to ideas of ‘goodness’, ‘what’s right’, ‘what’s decent’........ • Involve POLITICAL positions – what is the most preferable way to organise society. Given that sociologists are also members of society can they study it objectively and without bias, unaffected by their own personal values?Can sociologists’ research be ‘value free’ – free from contamination or distortion by their values? This question has divided sociologists creating a debate and therefore a possible exam question. Your teacher’s 3 main values are: 1. To treat everyone with respect regardless of age, gender, class, ethnicity, region etc 2. To look after my mother and father in their old age 3. To do the best I can for the pupils I teach You will no doubt hold a different set of values, have other ideas on what is most desirable and important to you. Write one of your own values here: There are threeclear and distinct positions over the question of personal and political values in theory and research: 1 VALUE-FREE SOCIOLOGY The idea that research can and should be carried out without the researcher’s beliefs and ideas intruding into the research and influencing the design and execution of the project. This is the central characteristic of POSITIVISM – value freedom is achieved by following the objective procedures of the natural sciences to produce true scientific knowledge about society. 2 VALUE-LADEN SOCIOLOGY In this view values are inevitable and it is not possible as Positivists claim for research to be value free. Sociologists are human beings with values and study other humans with their own values. It is inevitable that values will play a part in research. However for some in this camp value freedom is still the most preferable way to conduct research andthe sociologistshould strive at all times to be detached and value free (even though this is never entirely possible in practice), and declare his/her values to allow others to decide if they have interfered with their work. 3 ‘COMMITTED’ SOCIOLOGY In this view it is actually desirable for sociologists to use their values to improve society through their work (and live up to their values). Politicalcommitment should influence and be the reason for the research. Here the sociologist openly declares which side they are on and makes a conscious attempt to make the world a better place through their work. As long as the position is made clear the research can be checked and verified.
  2. 2. Objectivity and values in sociology The Classical Sociologists and Values All had important views on the question of objectivity and value freedom: EARLY POSIVISTS: COMTE, DURKHEIM Comte(1798-1857) andDurkheim (1858-1917) took their inspiration from the modernistEnlightenment Project. As the science of society the job of Sociology was to discover the truth about how society works and uncovering social laws/social facts was the way they did this. This could improve human life by solving social problems. By discovering the truth about how society worked they could say objectively with scientific certainty what was really best for society. Comte saw sociology as queen of sciences – and sociologists as latter day priests of a new scientific religion of truth. KARLMARX (1818 – 1883) In some ways can be seen as a positivist. He saw himself as scientist who believed his analysis of society (historical materialism – seeing economic production as the starting point) could reveal the true nature of society. Showing the proletariat the truth of capitalist exploitation and alienation would pave the way for communist classless society. Marx takes for granted the value of the ideal communist society and argues that his scientific approach shows us how to reach it. Like Comte and Durkheim then he sees science as helping to ‘deliver’ the good society. However Marx was also a committed political activist – his view that was that the only way to change society was to understand it. He actively agitated for working class revolution as well as writing ‘scientific’ sociology. MAXWEBER Marx, Durkheim and Comte saw little distinction between scientific facts and our values because the believed that science could tell us what these values should be. Weber on the other hand makes a sharp distinction between facts and valuejudgementsarguing that we cannot derive values from facts. The example of divorce illustrates this – Durkheim found that divorcees are more likely to commit suicide however this does not infer that divorce should therefore be outlawed (a value judgement) because we could equally argue that suicide is an option everyone has a right to choose (another value judgement). Therefore to Weber values can neither be proved or disproved by facts. Perhaps strangely then Weber saw an essential role for values in sociological research. He divided the research process into 4 stages and looked at the role of values within each stage: 1 Values as a guide to research Values guide the choice of a sociologist’s research because they inevitably study what is important to them e.g. feminists study gender inequality ARE VALUES RELEVANT AT THIS STAGE? 2 Data Collection and hypothesis testing When we are actually collecting the facts we need to keep values and prejudices out of the process and be unbiased and objective. e.g. don’t ask leading questions Once we have gathered the facts we can use them to test a hypothesis, does the hypothesis fit the observed facts or not? ARE VALUES RELEVANT AT THIS STAGE? 3 Values in the interpretation of data Values are present in the interpretation of data – bias comes in the theoretical framework the facts are fitted into. Sociologists need to make this perspective clear so others can judge whether there is bias or not. ARE VALUES RELEVANT AT THIS STAGE? 4 Values and the sociologist as a citizen Sociologists are citizens – sociologists should take the moral responsibility for the implications of their research and the harm it might do e.g. Einstein’s research made the atomic bomb possible, something Einstein opposed. ARE VALUES RELEVANT AT THIS STAGE?
  3. 3. Modern Positivists – shied away from any value commitments Unlike Comte and Durkheim who were openly committed to re-shaping society in certain ways by the mid C20th positivists tended to argue that their own values were irrelevant to their research. There were two reasons for this: REASON 1: THE DESIRE TO APPEAR SCIENTIFIC Science is concerned with matters of fact, not value – ‘is’ questions, not ‘ought’ questions. Therefore in this view sociologists remain morally neutral and concentrate on establishing the truth only. Critics argue that this simply reflected the desire to make sociology respectable and to tap into the high prestige science enjoys in modern society. REASON 2: THE SOCIAL POSITION OF SOCIOLOGY Gouldner (1975) critiqued the‘hired hands’ or ‘hired guns’ nature of sociologists in the 1950s.Instead of being problem makers who defined their own research problems, they had become problem takers who hired themselves out to the highest bidder to solve their problems for them. Alvin Gouldner was scathing of this position – he argued that this blind obedience meant that their own values were irrelevant to their work. Remember Weber argued that research findings often have very real effects on people’s lives and that sociologists must take moral responsibility for the effects of their work. Two examples illustrate the link between modern positivists and the US military: PROJECT CAMELOT Project Camelot was a social science research project of the United States Army that started in 1964 and was cancelled after congressional hearings in 1965. The goal of the project was to assess the causes of conflict between national groups, to anticipate social breakdown and provide eventual solutions. The proposal caused much controversy among social scientists, many of whom voiced concerns that such a study was in conflict with their professional ethics. The project's purpose was described by the army as follows: “ Success in such tasks as equipping and training indigenous forces for an internal security mission, civic action, psychological warfare, or other counterinsurgency action depends on a thorough understanding of the indigenous social structure, upon the accuracy with which changes within the indigenous culture, particularly violent changes, are anticipated, and the effects of various courses of action available to the military and other agencies of government upon the indigenous process of change.” HUMAN TERRAIN SYSTEM (HTM) A recent programme developed by the US military to study groups in Afghanistan and Iraq. The US military wanted to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of the coalition forces and used social scientists to work closely with US combat brigades in the two countries. It was their job to feed the military information which helped them to win the trust of the local population and to defeat the insurgents. Not surprisingly some social scientists have heavily criticised and boycotted the HTS as unethical.
  4. 4. COMMITTED SOCIOLOGY The following sociologists advocate actively taking sides by championing the values and interests of particular groups and individuals (the least powerful) Gunner Myrdal (1969) Argues that sociologists should not only spell out their values, as Weber recommends, but also openly take sides. Alvin Gouldner (1975) Like Myrdal argues that is neither possible nor desirable to keep values out of research. To Gouldner value free Sociology is: a) Impossible because either the sociologist’s own values, or those of the paymasters, are bound to be reflected in their work b)Undesirable since without values to guide research, sociologists are merely putting their services at the disposal of the highest bidder. Gouldner argues that: from such a standpoint, there is no reason why one cannot sell his knowledge to spread a disease just as freely as he can to fight it. Indeed some sociologists have had no hesitation about doing market research designed to sell more cigarettes, although well aware of the implications of recent cancer research. Howard Becker (1970) – ‘whose side are we on?’ If all Sociology is influenced by values then the sociologist must inevitably take sides. By not choosing a side the sociologists is in fact taking the side of the more powerful against the less powerful. Becker argues that values are always present in Sociology and that positivists and functionalists have tended to take the viewpoint of the powerful e.g. the police. To him instead of seeing things from the perspective of the powerful sociologists should adopt a compassionate stance and take the side of the underdogs – the criminals, the mental patients etc. By identifying with the underdog and giving them a voice we can reveal a previously hidden side of social reality. For example in Venkatesh’s book ‘Gang Leader for a Day’, the outcome of a participant observation study of a Chicago gang, he identifies closely with members of a violent and criminal subculture. In other words we must be biased in favour of the gang and against the police and the state. The emphasis on identifying and empathising with the powerless has clear links to the kind of research methods favoured by interactionists, for example participant observation to gain verstehen and reveal the meanings for these ‘outsiders’. Alvin Gouldner’s criticism of Becker However Gouldner criticises Becker for taking a romantic and sentimental approach to disadvantaged groups and accuses Becker of being concerned only with the misunderstood and negatively labelled exotic specimens of deviant behaviour (pimps, hippies, weirdoes etc). Instead Gouldner takes aMarxist position, to him sociologists should take the side of those fighting back – political radicals struggling to change society and should not confine themselves to describing the viewpoint of the underdog and the oppressed (as Becker does). Sociology should be committed to ending their oppression by unmasking the ways in which the powerful maintain their position.
  5. 5. FUNDING AND CAREERS In the real world sociologists are influenced by their sponsors, their ambitions and the pressures of their job status: 1 He who pays the piper calls the tune... Sources of funding include government departments, businesses and voluntary organisations. Often the body who pays for the research controls the direction it takes and the kind of questions it asks, or does not ask.Therefore the sociologist’s work is likely to reflect the values and interests of their paymasters. In some cases funding organisations may prevent publication if the research findings prove unacceptable, or try to bury the findings. The Black Report (1980) into class inequalities in health was released over a bank holiday weekend to try and lessen its impact because its findings did not ‘fit’ Conservative government policy at the time. 2 Furthering a career and naked ambition Sociologists are often career-minded and ambitious (personal values) and may seek to enhance their reputations by choosing a topic, theory, or perspective which is in fashion at the time. They may also tone down findings if they feel being too outspoken will threaten their careers or further job prospects. Sociologists in university departments are likely to be under pressure to publish research, perhaps regardless of its quality or usefulness. PERSPECTIVES and METHODS For Gouldner all research is inevitably influenced by values – whether it is the values of the sociologist or those of the funding body that pays for the research. Different perspectives hold different assumptions and values about how society is or should be e.g. Feminists see society as based on gender inequality and promote the rights of women Functionalists see society as harmonious and promote conservative values that favour the status quo (for instance that nuclear families are the best way to organise family life) Marxists see society as based on class inequality and exploitation and advocate revolution and a classless society. These assumptions and values influence the topics that they choose to research, the concepts they use, and the conclusions they reach. Functionalists argue that inequality is good for society, Marxists that inequality is bad because it is based on exploitation and leads to alienation. There is also a link between the methods sociologists prefer and their values. For example: a)Interactionists for example prefer qualitative methods which fits with their desire to empathise with the underdog – verstehen gives enables them to see the actor’s meanings and worldview. b)Functionalists use positivist methods and take the side of the ‘establishment’ and see things from the viewpoint of authority hence their uncritical acceptance of official statistics produced by government departments. Therefore both can be criticised for selecting methods that produce facts which reflect their values and outlooks.
  6. 6. OBJECTIVITY and RELATIVISM If all sociological perspectives involve values we could say then that there findings are simply a reflection of their values, rather than a true picture of society. As someone once joked where Marxists find evidence of class consciousness others find simply moaning. Similarly where Functionalists find the warm bath theory the Marxist-Feminist Fran Ansley found women absorbing the revolutionary potential of men, women as‘takers of shit’. Therefore we might conclude that there is no way of deciding which of these different versions of reality, if any, is the true one! One version of this idea is known as RELATIVISM. Relativism argues that: - Different groups, cultures and individuals have different views as to what is true. Each one sees the world in their own distinctive way, through their own perspectives, concepts, values and interests - There is no way of judging whether any one view is TRUER than any other All sociologist would agree with the first statement, for example Feminists see the world in a certain way, Calvinists in another, Fundamental Islamists in another...... However relativism goes much further – it argues that there is NO ABSOLUTE or OBJECTIVE TRUTH, only many versions of the truth and what you believe is true IS true, for you, but for you only. Therefore if you believe the world is flat, or that the moon is made of cream cheese then it is because there is no way of proving otherwise. RELATIVISM and POSTMODERNISM Postmodernists take this relativist view of knowledge – they reject the idea that any one account of the social world is superior to any other. In their view there is no ‘privileged account’ of the social world which has special access to the truth. Any perspective that claims to have the truth, like Marxism, is just a METANARRATIVE. All knowledge, from whatever perspective is based on values and assumptions and therefore no perspective has any special claim to be true. CRITICISMS OF THERELATIVIST POSTMODERN POSITION (A02) Postmodernists argue that those that claim truth are just metanarratives – this defeats the postmodern view ironically! Why should we believe them and their claims over any other version? Relativism then is logically self-defeating since it at the same time tells us something true while also telling us that no one can tell us what is true! In practice sociologists rarely go this far. After all there IS a REAL factual world out there where: - Women are doing most of the domestic tasks - Children still go hungry - Black youths are being labelled as criminals by the police - Working class pupils overall do far worse at school than middle class ones....... Regardless of the sociologist’s values or perspective we can observe and record these facts. Once we have established the existence of such facts they can be used to judge the value of competing theories and perspectives. In the end it matters less whether a theory contains certain values, than whether it can explain the world that we observe.
  7. 7. TASK Label each of the statements below with the appropriate view A VALUE-FREE SOCIOLOGY B VALUE-LADEN SOCIOLOGY C COMMITTED SOCIOLOGY 1OBJECTIVITY 3 Early POSITIVISTSComte and Durkheim were very optimistic about what Sociology could do. To them is was about studying society scientifically, uncovering the truth about society and using this knowledge to improve society for all. Comte saw sociologists as latter day priests of a new scientific religion of truth! 5 Sociological research is usually funded. Sociologists may have to agree to having their findings manipulated for the benefit of the funders. For example the Black Report (1980) clearly showed class inequalities in health but was ‘hidden’ by the new conservative govt. 7As human beings we all have values and we cannot escape these however hard we try. The best thing to do is to make these values clear both to ourselves and the readers of the research who can then make up their own minds. 9 Postmodernists like LYOTARD and BAUDRILLARD argue that sociological and scientific thinking is based on a series of values about the nature of society itself. Science itself is a product of modernist thinking. The values of science and/or sociology are no ‘truer’ than any other set of values. This is RELATIVISM – it suggests that no one perspective has any special claims on truth. All are equally as valid. 11 RELATIVISM Suggests that all knowledge from whatever perspective is based on values and assumptions and thus no perspective has a claim to truth.Criticism: tries to tell us something that is true while telling us that no one can tell us what is true! 13 Marxist theorist ALTHUSSER argued that the role of sociology is to uncover the ways in which the ruling class control the masses. The aim for him then is to smash capitalism by exposing how it only operates to benefit a select few. 2‘SOCIAL FACTS’ are out there simply waiting to be collected 4 Gouldner criticised sociologists for sitting on the fence. He noted that HE WHO PAYS THE PIPER CALLS THE TUNE. Sociologists were in danger of becoming ‘problem takers’ – hired hands to the highest bidder (government, military, business) with no backbone or moral responsibility. Values are inevitable – if the sociologist gives up on values then the values of the hirer will predominate – he argued for taking sides. 6 Some Sociologists are AMBITIOUS AND CAREER-ORIENTATED – they want to be famous and are sometimes egotistical and overly ambitious. This can influence their choice of topic among other things – in other words their values come into the research. 8Sociologists are drawn or attracted to certain areas of social life – this is often the result of personal issues or experiences. This may lead to sociologists being biased in their choice of research topics and in their selection of the ‘facts’. 10 MODERN POSITIVSTS See OBJECTIVE SCIENTIFIC SOCIOLOGY as entirely POSSIBLE AND FEASIBLE. Sociologists should remain morally neutral – their job simply to establish truth about society. Criticism: sociologists like this are simply seeking credibility and respectability by standing in the shadow of science and all the prestige this seems to offer. 12 HOWARD BECKER argues that the sociologist should take the side of the underdog and look at issues from the underdog’s perspective. He thus advocated taking sides. He argued that if sociologists don’t take sides they are really taking the side of the powerful. 14 Feminists like SPENDER argue that the role of feminist sociology should be to expose the truth of how males dominate females and thus help to bring about a patriarchal-free society.
  8. 8. 15 The overall aim of FEMINIST research is the emancipation of women 17 LEFT REALISTS argue that Capitalism causes many problems and until it can be replaced with a better system research should concentrate on highlighting the problems vulnerable people face, to help to resolve them and to protect people and improve lives 19 Karl Marx argued that his scientific analysis revealed the truth about the historical development of societies – that is they evolved through a series of forms and eventually capitalism would be replaced by a classless society he called communism (a better society according to him) Criticism – saying a better society simply reveals the values in his ideas. 16 POSITIVISM 18 Gunnar Myrdal (1969) argues that sociologists should openly parade their values and ‘take sides’. 20 Karl Marx argued that his scientific analysis revealed the truth about the historical development of societies. However he also argued that his role was to help to change the world – our job is not just to understand society but to change it by overthrowing capitalism. In that sense his sociology is about changing society to a more preferable form in which exploitation is eliminated. 21 Max Weber argued that VALUES impinge on 22 Max Weber argued that once we have research in 3 ways chosen a research topic we must keep our 1 They always guide research in that sociologists VALUES and prejudices out of the process and choose which bits of society to study – these are just collect facts. Gathered facts can then test a inevitable their ‘favourite’ bits. For instance hypothesis – do they confirm or deny it. This feminists value gender equality and so study according to him is objective social science. women’s oppression. Marxists value class equality and so study class inequality as a way of revealing unfairness to the rest of society. 2 In using theory to interpret the data collected. Theories depend on our values and this should be acknowledge openly so others can decide if bias has crept into the research 3 By taking moral responsibility for the possible harm their research might do. 23 BECKER asks the leading question ‘Whose 24 GOULDNER side are we on?’ Marxist viewpoint. Sociologists should take He argues that values are always present in sides yes, but should take sides with those who Sociology and that sociologists should take the are fighting back – the political radicals who side of the least powerful – the mental struggle to change things. patients, the poor etc. This will give them a voice and help redress the imbalance. In By siding with the simply the underdog as methods like PO sociologists can give these Becker does this does not challenge the real outsiders a voice power in society. CRITICISM: Gouldner argues that this is an overly romanticised view in which sociologists get their kicks in researching exotic deviants. 25 RELATIVISM SUCKS! There is a real unequal 26 RELATIVISM SUCKS! There is a real unequal world out there – women do more housework! world out there – kids are abused, fight it!
  9. 9. Answers to Quick Check Questions on page 275 Lack of bias or preconceptions. Not allowing one’s personal views and values to affect the collection or interpretation of data. The stage of data gathering. That they had stopped challenging authority and become like hired hands, taking no moral responsibility for their work. True. Because their understanding of these societies could provide useful information e.g. for the military’s counter-insurgency operations. To redress the balance – unlike the views of the powerful, those of the underdog are seldom heard. Because science and its research methods have high status in academic circles and in wider society. QUESTION