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Value debate in Sociology


Value in sociology refers to subjective disposition arising out of experience, beliefs, preferences and even biases. These can be personal, cultural, temporal and situation specific and may not remain the same over a period. Values represent what one believes and not necessarily what reality is. They refer to socially accepted standards of desirability and undesirability. For an individual or a society, they define what is important and worth striving for on one hand and what is not on the other hand. They guide our objectives and goals as well as the means that we should adopt for achievement of such goals and hence shape our actions. According to functionalists, values are of society and not of individuals. Values are a medium of social control. Since values are subjective to individuals and society, early sociologists considered values as an undesirable influence in social research. They called for keeping individual values aside while doing social research as it affects an objective evaluation. They also argued that incorporation of such values will make the discipline merely a speculative exercise. Values are also associated with ideological thinking. Ideologies of functionalists and conflict theorists will be at diverging ends. Values were also accorded suitable importance by alternate sociological streams like the non-Positivists and other streams of social researchers. There is a distinction between fact and value and sociologists like Comte, Durkheim and Weber favored this distinction for making sociology a truly scientific discipline. Critical theorists argue that values in society are also the dominant values and hence, sociologists cannot concern themselves with facts alone, since sociologists are also interested in people own reasons for action. Howard Becker in Whose Side are We on? argued that depriving social sciences of values will be akin to taking the very soul away from the disciplines. If sociologists will not promote and appreciate social values, sociology will be dominated by the values of the ruling class as there will be no force to resist ideological hegemony of social reality. It is agreed that rather than aiming for complete value freedom, the sociologists should avoid a strong interest in the outcome of the research so that unnecessary influence of values may be avoided. By this logic it is possible to retain objectivity and rationality in sociological research without completely doing away with values or making a clear distinction between facts and values. In social research there can be fact value distinction but no fact value dichotomy.