Should Sociology be Normative?

Hammersley, Martyn (2023). Should Sociology be Normative? The American Sociologist (Early access).



This article critically examines recent arguments by Andrew Abbott, Jensen Sass, and Tariq Modood proposing a normative sociology, one that not only adopts an evaluative stance towards the phenomena it investigates, but also makes explicit and seeks to justify the values on which its evaluations rely. I argue that, while these proposals are to be welcomed in some respects, they fail to address two key issues: On what reasonable basis can it be assumed that there are single correct answers to value questions?; and What distinctive intellectual authority can sociologists claim to be able to discover those answers? I also point out that these recent advocates for a normative sociology pay insufficient attention to the opposing position, a commitment to ‘value-neutrality’, as proposed most notably by Max Weber. I argue that, while this is frequently ignored or dismissed out of hand, it represents a much more coherent and cogent view, even if its advocates have rarely fully lived up to its demands.

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