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Exploring Value-Free Sociology

February 13, 2009

Max Weber wrote that, as sociologists, we need to place our own values and understandings aside when attempting to explain social phenomena. He called this “value-free sociology.” One explanation for this rule might be that our own values aren’t always applicable to others. If we use our beliefs to interpret mass behavior, then we assume those people share our values and norms. Some sociologists believe we need to specifically identify understandings among people producing the social phenomena we are studying. But the act of temporarily discarding our beliefs is difficult. If you would like to discuss this subject, respond to one of the topics below:

Discussion Topics:
1) How can you identify understandings basic to all people and avoid those specific to your culture? Without such a template, how could you arrange the beliefs of the people you are studying? Apply your reasoning to designing a sociological study of terrorist motivation.

2) How could not exploring your own cultural understandings endanger the quality of a social investigation? Use the last American presidential election as an example to illustrate your points.

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