Weber Sociology a Level Aqa Theory value Free Research Methods

Values are beliefs, opinions and prejudices about what is good and bad, right and wrong.

Weber distinguished sharply between values and fact, he argues that a value cannot be proved or disproved by facts as they belong to different realms. For example a fact may be divorcees are more likely to commit suicide, but this fact can’t make us accept the value judgment that divorce should be harder to obtain. However, Weber saw that values still play an essential role in most parts of the research process. He argued that values must be involved in choosing a research topic, interpreting the data that is collected, and deciding how to use the findings, but values should be kept from the collection of data as this could contaminate the data collected and make the data itself bias.

Firstly values have to be used as a guide in deciding what to research. Weber took the idea from phemenology that, social reality is made of a meaningless infinity of facts. Due to this it’s impossible to study the whole of society, instead, the researcher must decide what is important enough to study based on his/her own values. In this way, values play an essential role in deciding which aspects of reality to study, and developing concepts with which to understand these aspects.

However values should be kept from data collection and hypothesis testing. When collecting data the researcher should remain as objective and unbiased as possible, in order to focus on the subjects’ view and not on the researcher’s pre-formed ideas and values. These gathered, objective facts can then be used to test a hypothesis, but this hypothesis should be proved or disproved completely on whether it fits the observed facts, and its success should not be influenced by the researcher’s values.

On the other hand, values become important with the interpretation of the data. Facts must be set in a theoretical framework, so meanings and conclusions can be drawn from the data, leading us to understand the facts. The choice of this framework or theoretical perspective is influenced by the researcher’s values. Weber argues we must declare our values and make them clear so others can decide whether or not to take our research seriously based on the values that others themselves hold.

Some sociologists choose to ignore how their research is use. They say it’s for the public or politicians to decide how to use their findings. Weber argues sociologists shouldn’t ignore how their research is used, as they too are citizens. They should use their values to ensure that research is being used morally. For instance Einstein developed the atomic bomb but still publicly apposed nuclear weapons. 

Therefore Weber suggests that values are an integral part of the research process. They are used to select a research topic, interpret data and should be used when deciding how to use the findings. However values should play no part in data collection as this could make findings invalid.

Modern, 20th century positivists disagree with Weber. They argue that their values are irrelevant to conducting research. This is due to the fact that they, just like early positivists, wish to appear scientific and science is concerned with matters of fact, not opinions, therefore values should be kept from research. They believe their job was to explain human behavior only, not praise or condemn it by deciding what is good and bad, right and wrong. Another factor that led to modern positivists believing their values were irrelevant is the social position of sociology. Sociologists used to have a ‘problem causer’ image, however by the 1950’s society’s perception of them had changed and they were now considered ‘problem solvers’. Due to this sociologists were in demand, and gave their services to the highest bidder. Therefore they had no concern for morals or issues linked with the research they would conduct because the research wasn’t for their own purpose. They simply conducted research with the aim of making as much money as possible.

However even though these positivists were trying to keep their research free from their values, they could be seen to be promoting the values of the organization or person who’s funding the research. Also the sociologists themselves may decide not to conduct or publish a certain piece of research due to the impact it could have on their reputation or career, therefore sociologists’ values inevitably effect choice in research topics and the findings of research.