Practice Question: What is ‘value-free sociology”? Clarify. (10 Marks) (UPSC 2016)

Approach: Introduction; Meaning of Value-free, Bring in different perspectives of Sociologists on the concept, Debate whether sociology is value-free or not; Conclusion.



Value Freedom in Social Research refers to the ability of the researcher to keep his or her own values (personal, political and religious) from interfering with the research process. The idea that ‘facts’ should not be influenced by the researcher’s own beliefs is a central aspect of ‘science’ – and so when we say that Sociology can and should be value free this is essentially the same as saying that ‘Sociology can and should be scientific’. Positivists believe that all sociology should be value free, while postmodernists believe that value freedom is impossible and undesirable. Marxists and feminists also argue that apparent value freedom when confronted with injustice and inequality is actually itself full of values.



 Values can operate at three levels:

  • At the level of philological interpretation.
  • At the level of ethical interpretation in assigning value to an object of enquiry.
  • At the level of rational interpretation in which the sociologists seeks the meaningful relationship between phenomena in terms of causal analysis. The point of value interpretation is to establish the value towards which an activity is directed.



Sociologists should observe value neutrality while conducting social research. It means that he should exclude ideological or non -scientific assumption from research. He should not make evaluative judgment about empirical evidence. Value judgment should be restricted to sociologists’ area of technical competence. He should make his own values open and clear and refrain from advocating particular values. Value neutrality enables the social scientists to fulfill the basic value of scientific enquiry that is search for true knowledge. Thus sociology being a science cherishes the goal of value neutrality.



Weber held that values influence the way in which research is conducted in the social sciences (in addition to other non-essential ways common to natural and social science) and that values themselves could be affected by the results of research. The holder of a value position may learn that a course of action is unworkable or that, if pursued, other values might, collaterally, be infringed or impeded. Facts can be brought to bear on values, potentially affecting one’s holding of them. However, this does not weaken by one iota a given value’s freely-chosen status. On the research side of the human disciplines, evaluations enter into the subject matter. Using verstehendes Erklären (understanding explanation), that is, the subject’s evaluations seen in relation to the conditions of his or her action, the researcher can hope to sort out the decisive motives of the actor studied. In research, the scrutiny of values permits a discussion between investigators that can clarify the (evaluative) points of view each brings to bear.



Weber’s idea of value-freedom and value-relevance has been an object of continuous discussion since he formulated it. Critics have appeared in several guises. Analytical philosophers, for example, are concerned with the is/ought distinction; descriptivists maintain that all qualities of objects are assimilable to their factual properties; and some empirical sociologists argue that value-freedom is a conservative professional ideology. Given that society is dichotomously divided—between, for example, men and women, white and black, bourgeoisie and proletariat—and the dominant is biased, the sociologist must take sides; if the sociologist falls on the side of the weaker, he or she must be biased too. For critical theorists, Weber advocates “decisionism,” that is, he implies that value choice is blind faith and “private”; Weber is thus a (subtle) positivist. A public consensus on value matters (ideals and projects) is, however, possible via human action.



 in practice it has been extremely difficult to fulfill this goal of value neutrality. Values creep in various stages in sociological research. According to Gunnar Myrdal total value neutrality is impossible. ‘Chaos does not organize itself into cosmos. We need view points.’ Thus in order to carry out social research viewpoints are needed which form the basis of hypothesis which enables the social scientists to collect empirical data. These view-points involve valuations and also while formulating the hypothesis. Thus a sociologist has to be value frank and should make the values which have got incorporated in the choice of the topic of the research of the formulation of hypothesis clear and explicit at the very outset in the research. Gomm argues that social research always has social and moral implications. Therefore Sociology inevitably has a political nature. For the sociologists to attempt to divorce him/herself from the consequences of his/her research findings is simply an evasion of responsibility.



Postmodernists believe that value freedom is impossible and undesirable. Everyone has values and these influence what they do. Apparently objective, value-free sociology is a narrative, a story, done for a purpose. Researchers should acknowledge their values and realise that they themselves are not an unbiased observer; that, whatever method they choose to use, those values will inform the research at all stages.

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