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Objectivity in Sociological Inquiry

How can a sociologist maintain neutrality when studying a group that he/she finds repugnant? (E.g. inmates convicted of rape or child molestation.)

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Please see response attached, which is also presented below. I hope this helps and take care.

1. How can a sociologist maintain neutrality when studying a group that he/she finds repugnant? (E.g. inmates convicted of rape or child molestation.) Minimum 300 words

This is an interesting question and one that is debated in the research world.

Research is an objective science, therefore she or he are expected to set aside her or his preconceived notions and judgments about the population being studied (e.g., inmates convicted of rape or child molestation), which is, of course, easier said than done; however, it is possible. It is about ethics. If a researcher is trained and competent, s/he should be able to look objectively at the phenomenon e.g., child molestation, without judging e.g. harming the participant. It is about professional competence. The researcher and all staff involved in the research must be knowledgeable of any potential for harm, must be prepared to direct research participants to assistance if needed, and must be trained and competent. However, if the researcher finds her or himself too emotionally charged, e.g., someone raped her or his own child, perhaps a referral to another researcher might be the best option.

The ASA Code of Ethics (example 1 below) is intended to direct research behavior through principle application to research projects. Therefore, the principles would make it easier to study a phenomenon without judging the participant. One way to do this is to separate behavior from the person. For example, the behavior is repugnant, but yet every human being has rights and deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. As a researcher, you are expected to act ethical in all your behavior, which includes doing no harm to the participants, and if you pre-judge the participants, e.g. inmates, that could be considered harmful to that participant. Thus, ethical principles are intended to guide your research behavior, which often focuses on rights, respect and dignity of every human being (Principle D). It is about having integrity (Principle B), about being fair to research participants. It is about being competent (Principle A). It is about professional and scientific responsibility (Principle C) (see example 1 below). It is also about social responsibility (Principle E) in researching topics important to society, and if you were unable to collect information about child molestation in an unbiased way (e.g., treating participant with respect just for being human), this challenges the validity of the research findings.

Also, you need to apply to the Ethics Committee for approval of your research (see example 2 below). It also helps the researcher focus on the phenomenon being researched (e.g., rape) while treating the participant's with dignity and respect e.g. not harming the participant in any way.

See supporting examples below.


Extra Reading:

Example 1: ASA Code of Ethics: Introduction (excerpt)

The American Sociological Association's (ASA's) Code of Ethics sets forth the principles and ethical standards that underlie sociologists' professional responsibilities and conduct. These principles and standards should be used as guidelines when examining everyday professional activities. They constitute normative ...

Solution Summary

This solution explains how a sociologist can maintain neutrality when studying a group that she/he finds repugnant i.e. inmates convicted of rape or child molestation.