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Problems of Objectivity

Objectivity is a goal of scientific investigation. Sociology also being a science aspires for the goal objectivity. Objectivity is a frame of mind so that personal prejudices, preferences or predilections of the social scientists do not contaminate the collection of analysis of data. Thus scientific investigations should be free from prejudices of race, color, religion, sex or ideological biases.

The need of objectivity in sociological research has been emphasized by all important sociologists. For example Durkheim in the Rules of the Sociological Method stated that social facts must be treated as things and all preconceived notions about social facts must be abandoned. Even Max Weber emphasized the need of objectivity when he said that sociology must be value free. According to Radcliff Brown the social scientist must abandon or transcend his ethnocentric and egocentric biases while carrying out researches. Similarly Malinowski advocated cultural relativism while anthropological field work in order to ensure objectivity.

However objectivity continues to be an elusive goal at the practical level. In fact one school of thought represented by Gunnar Myrdal states that total objectivity is an illusion which can never be achieved. Because all research is guided by certain viewpoints and view points involve subjectivity.Myrdal suggested that the basic viewpoints should be made clear. Further he felt that subjectivity creeps in at various stages in the course of sociological research. Merton believes that the very choice of topic is influenced by personal preferences and ideological biases of the researcher.

Besides personal preferences the ideological biases acquired in the course of education and training has a bearing on the choice of the topic of research. The impact of ideological biases on social-research can be very far-reaching as seen from the study of Tepostalan village in Mexico. Robert Redfield studied it with functionalist perspective and concluded that there exists total harmony between various groups in the village while Oscar Lewis studied this village at almost the same time from Marxist perspective and found that the society was conflict ridden. Subjectivity can also creep in at the time of formulation of hypotheses. Normally hypotheses are deduced from existing body of theory. All sociological theories are produced by and limited to particular groups whose viewpoints and interests they represent. Thus formulation of hypotheses will automatically introduce a bias in the sociological research. The third stage at which subjectivity creeps in the course of research is that of collection of empirical data. No technique of data collection is perfect. Each technique may lead to subjectivity in one way or the other. In case of participant observation the observer as a result of nativisation acquires a bias in favour of the group he is studying. While in non-participant observation of the sociologist belongs to a different group than that under study he is likely to impose his values and prejudices.

In all societies there are certain prejudices which affect the research studies. In case of interview as a technique the data may be influenced by context of the interview, the interaction of the participants, and participant's definition of the situation and if adequate rapport does not extend between them there might be communication barriers. Thus according to P.V Young interview sometimes carries a subjectivity. Finally it can also affect the field limitations as reported by Andre Beteille study of Sripuram village in Tanjore where the Brahmins did not allow him to visit the untouchable locality and ask their point of view.

Thus complete objectivity continues to be an elusive goal. The researcher should make his value preference clear in research monograph. Highly trained and skilled research workers should be employed. Various methods of data collection research should be used and the result obtained from one should be cross-checked with those from the other. Field limitations must be clearly stated in the research monograph.

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