Day 9: An essay

My friend said this is cheating, but I spent all day doing essays so I feel like this is okay.

This is one of my sociology essays from last year – it’s on values and ethics of sociological researchers. Not my favourite topic but I don’t really want to write up my post-modernism essay.

This got a B overall so not bad for the first one on research!

Using material from the Items and elsewhere, assess the view that values inevitably enter sociological research in many ways.

 

33 marks

When a sociologist undertakes research, they can often allow their own background morals and beliefs influence their work. This can begin at the very start of research, when they decide on a research topic to cover; a Marxist sociologist will inevitably look at class imbalances, while a feminist sociologist will look at the patriarchy and the role of women in some way. This, in itself is un-objective, as there is a bias towards what the sociologist themselves sees as important. However, this is unavoidable; while it may be more unbiased for sociologists to choose random research topics from a hat, it is unrealistic and could be argued to invalidate the sociologist’s own background and experience.

 

This is particularly relevant to Ann Oakley’s work, who viewed her experiences, both as a woman and as a mother, as relevant to her research and important in helping her connect to her research subjects.
Item A argues this further with the implication that males and females have different experiences, and only the male’s experiences “need to be taken into account.” This also suggests that only members of the same gender can empathize with female specific struggles, indicating that, in this case, a sociologist allowing their values into their research would not be a bad thing, but a way of empathizing with their research participants, and gaining their trust to provide more accurate information.

 

However, this lack of objectivity in choosing research does mean that sociology cannot be considered a science, something some sociologists (Positivists) consider very important. Durkheim was one of these; he suggested that sociology must have been considered a science in order for it to be taken seriously in the early days of study. This was necessary for the subject to compete with other, more traditional forms of study – Physics, Chemistry etc – for essential funding. The funding of research was particularly important to Hayter’s ‘Aid as Imperialism’ study, which found issues surrounding the World Bank lending countries money. Unfortunately, the World Bank was funding her research and decided to pull out with what they had found.
However, even traditional science isn’t completely value free, with issues surrounding sponsorship of study, and how this can affect the published result. This issues are similarly found in sociological research.

 

A way around this would be to be upfront about the personal beliefs of the researcher, perhaps in a bio in their published works. This allows readers to come to their own conclusions about whether the research is value free or laden, and how relevant this is to the study.

 

The values of a sociologist though, if leaked through into their research, can cause legal issues; a sociologist investigating crime is likely to use covert participant observation (there being little chance of a criminal group allowing a researcher into their ‘inner circle’ if they are known) and may either witness illegal activities, or participate in them to retain their cover. Despite the legal requirement to report these crimes, the sociologist may not, out of a sense of ethics decide not to report on them – it could skew the results of the research, or perhaps the researcher went ‘native’ and empathised with the group studied.

 

This reflects Becker’s idea (also echoed in Item B) that sociologists have a desire to sympathize with the ‘underdog.’ This is shown throughout many sociologist’s research choices; most are centred on a disadvantaged group. Though this could be for other reasons (such as disadvantaged groups being easier to study, with less worry about what skeletons might come out in the research) it is likely that this very human behaviour creates a desire to help the individuals being studies, rather than just observe, talk to, or quantify them. Though this could be considered a natural human instinct, it can also be considered that, by helping a subject, the researcher is interfering with the outcome of the research – the line between blending in and actively changing the outcome is very fine – which would be detrimental to the results of the research, though it may be good for the sociologist’s conscience.

 

While it is difficult to completely extract values from sociological research (and, sometimes, they shouldn’t be extracted at all) if the outcome of the research done and total confidentiality is priority to the sociologist, every care should be taken to ignore personal values and bias in favour of value free research. However, if the sociologist cares more about building a firm rapport with the subject, their own values and experiences would be welcome and helpful.

 

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