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Objectivity and Reflexivity in Social Science
Objectivity and Reflexivity
Objectivity refers to the unbiased, neutral perspective of the researcher in conducting social science research. This means that the researcher strives to minimise personal biases and subjective perspectives to obtain results that are as accurate and neutral as possible. Objectivity is considered essential in social science research as it helps to eliminate the influence of personal biases and provide a clear understanding of the data collected.
Reflexivity, on the other hand, refers to the process of reflecting on the researcher's own experiences, biases, and assumptions that may impact their research. It involves an awareness of how the researcher's own experiences, beliefs, and attitudes shape the research process, from the selection of research questions to the interpretation of results. Reflexivity is important in social science research as it allows the researcher to consider their own biases and perspectives, leading to a more accurate and valid interpretation of the data.
Weber on Objectivity
Max Weber was a German sociologist who believed in the importance of objectivity in social science research. He believed that a researcher's values and beliefs should be kept separate from their research, and that the results of a study should be neutral and unbiased. He focuses on ideal types- relationships which our imagination accepts as plausible, so they are 'objectively possible', and so they are adequate from a nomological standpoint.
A given reality is systematically ordered according to subjective categories, which is the only way empirical knowledge has objective validity. These categories are subjective because they present our presuppositions and are based on the idea that empirical knowledge is the only source of truths we can obtain from it which makes social science objective in nature.
Durkheim on Objectivity
Emile Durkheim, a French sociologist, also believed in the importance of objectivity in social science research. He argued that objectivity was essential in order to understand social reality and to develop accurate theories. According to Durkheim, social facts are objective and external to the individual. They are things like laws, customs, and institutions that shape social behaviour and exist independently of any one individual. These social facts are not created by individuals, but are rather the product of collective actions and attitudes.To study social facts, Durkheim believed that sociologists must approach them with objectivity, which means, sociologists must set aside their personal biases and opinions and study social facts as they exist objectively in the world.
Gouldner and Reflexivity
Alvin Gouldner was an American sociologist who argued that reflexivity was essential in order to consider the researcher's own experiences, biases, and assumptions, leading to a more accurate and valid interpretation of the data. Reflexivity is an essential aspect of social inquiry and a key to the advancement of knowledge, we are better able to understand the limitations of our own perspectives and to identify potential blind spots in our analysis.
He also emphasised the importance of reflexivity in relation to power dynamics within society and argued that individuals and groups with greater power are often less likely to engage in reflexivity, as their interests and beliefs are more likely to be supported by the dominant cultural norms and structures and ,individuals and groups with less power are more likely to engage in reflexivity, as they are often more aware of the limitations of their own perspectives and more open to alternative viewpoints. Hence it is an important tool for sociologists and other researchers seeking to engage in critical inquiry and to promote social change and can help to create more inclusive and equitable social systems.
Garfinkle: Reflexivity through Ethnomethodology
Garfinkle, an American sociologist, developed the theory of ethnomethodology, which studies how reflexivity is a way in which people are aware of their own actions and behaviours and how these impact their understanding of the world. Through ethnomethodology, Garfinkle emphasised the importance of studying how people make sense of their own experiences and how they interpret the actions of others Thus it provides a unique and valuable perspective for sociologists on human behaviour and social interaction.
Bourdieu: Reflexive Sociology
Pierre Bourdieu was a French sociologist who developed the concept of reflexive sociology, which is a theoretical framework for understanding how social actors both shape and are shaped by the social structures and systems they inhabit. In reflexive sociology, social actors are not simply passive recipients of the social world, but are actively engaged in shaping and reproducing social structures through their actions.
This process also allows individuals to understand and navigate the social structures and systems they inhabit and enables them to challenge and transform these structures if they choose to do so. Bourdieu emphasises that reflexive sociology is a critical approach that seeks to expose and challenge the power relations and inequalities that exist in society. Social actors must be conscious of their own positionality and the ways in which their social location and habits (i.e., their embodied dispositions, attitudes, and habits) influence their actions and perceptions.
Types of Reflexivity Used in Research
There are several types of reflexivity that can be used in research, including −
Personal reflexivity refers to the examination of the researcher's own beliefs, values, and interests and the ways in which these may influence the research process.
Structural reflexivity refers to the examination of the larger social and cultural structures that may influence the research process and the data generated.
Interpersonal reflexivity refers to the examination of the researcher's relationships with participants and the ways in which these relationships may influence the research process.
Methodological reflexivity refers to the examination of the research methods used and the ways in which these methods may influence the research process and the data generated.
This type of reflexivity involves the researcher critically examining the theories, concepts and paradigms that inform their research and how these might influence their findings.
This type of reflexivity involves the researcher reflecting on their own epistemological assumptions and biases in relation to the research topic.
In conclusion, objectivity and reflexivity are two important concepts in social science that are closely linked. Objectivity refers to the ideal of impartiality and detachment in research, while reflexivity refers to the recognition and critical examination of the researcher's own role and impact on the research process and the data generated. The importance of reflexivity in social science research has gained recognition in recent years, and it is now considered an integral part of the research process. By examining their own role and impact on the research process, researchers are able to ensure that their research remains impartial and free from bias.
Q1. Why is objectivity important in social science research?
Ans. Objectivity is important in social science research as it ensures that the research produced is impartial, unbiased, and based on rigorous and systematic methods. Objectivity helps to ensure that the findings of research are not influenced by the personal opinions, beliefs, or experiences of the researcher.
Q2. What is the difference between objectivity and reflexivity in social science research?
Ans. Objectivity refers to the absence of bias and personal opinions in research, while reflexivity refers to the self-awareness and critical reflection of the researcher on their own biases, values and beliefs. Objectivity is concerned with ensuring that research findings are not influenced by personal biases, while reflexivity is concerned with the process of self-reflection and critical examination of the researcher's own biases and experiences.
Q3. Is objectivity and reflexivity mutually exclusive?
Ans. No, objectivity and reflexivity are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they complement each other in social science research. Objectivity helps to ensure that the findings of research are accurate and reliable, while reflexivity allows researchers to reflect on their own biases and perspectives and how they may be shaping their work.
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