objectivity 1

objectivity 1

  1. accounts of the external world held to represent the world as it exists independently of our conceptions.
  2. knowledge claimed to meet criteria of VALIDITY and RELIABILITY, and held to be free from BIAS. Most disciplines establish working criteria of objectivity in sense 2 . However, they usually fall we short of providing more than conventional, ‘working’ answers to the question ‘what constitutes objectivity?’ in sense 1 .

    Problems arise as to whether objectivity is an attainable goal even for the physical sciences. Currently the philosophers answer is that, in any strict sense, it is not, since our view of reality is mediated by our finite cognitive abilities and by the ever-changing theories and concepts which always structure our view of reality (see SCIENTIFIC PARADIGM, THEORY RELATIVITY, INCOMMENSURABILITY). Thus claims to knowledge are today more likely to be presented in terms of INTERSUBJECTIVITY and provisional agreements (compare REALISM).

    For the social sciences there exist additional difficulties in conception 1 , in that social reality does not exist independently of our collective conceptions of it. However, it can be seen as existing independently of any individual conceptions of it and to this degree as existing ‘objectively’. Thus there seems no reason why social science should not aspire to ‘objectivity’, at least in sense l , always accepting that this must include ‘objective’ accounts of what social actors hold 'subjectively’ in constituting and reproducing their social worlds. That objective accounts may be difficult to achieve, must be recognized. What is not acceptable is any dogmatic assertion of ‘objective’ forms of‘measurement’ (e.g. fixed-choice questionnaires insensitive to nuances of meaning) on the assumption that such methods constitute the only way in which social science can be rendered truly ‘scientific’ (see MEASUREMENT BY FIAT, CICOUREL, OFFICIAL STATISTICS; compare SOCIAL FACTS AS THINGS). See also EPISTEMOLOGY, TRUTH, ONTOLOGY, IDEALISM, POSITIVISM, EMPIRICISM, RELATIVISM, DECONSTRUCTION, POSTMODERNITY AND POSTMODERNISM.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000