Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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Value freedom

core definition

Value freedom means adopting an approach to research that is not influenced by political, moral, racial or gender considerations

explanatory context

Value freedom demands the consideration of all points of view rather than a single prejudiced point of view.

Value freedom is often mixed up with objectivity and even with objectivism. This happens when it is argued that all scientists have their own values and points of view to start with (and are searching out answers to particular questions). The suggestion is that if values are clearly set out then the resulting analysis is effectively value free and thus objective. Such a view places the emphasis of objectivity on the testing process and ignores the heart of the subjective-objective debate. The approach often goes further and suggests that it does not matter what values are behind the generation of ideas so long as any meanings so discovered are interpreted 'objectively'. This implies that values can somehow be expunged from the objective interpretation process.

However, value freedom raises questions independent of objectivist concerns and is not limited to positivistic perspectives.

Contrary to the above it is argued that complete value freedom is impossible because people cannot place their prejudices on one side, not least, because people are not aware of all their prejudices. A more extreme view argues that certain aspects of individual biology (e.g. gender, race, age) and/or social characteristics (e.g. nationality, class) inform the way the world is viewed and these cannot be simply set aside. Hence everybody has either an inherently biased and/or social contextually biased view of the world. Thus value freedom is an idealist illusion.

While value freedom may be an idealist notion, it is arguable that critical social analysis provides a way of addressing the social world that engages taken-for-granteds and thus through dialectical analysis develops an anti-prejudicial analysis.

analytical review

Delanty and Strydom (2003, pp. 14) state:

Value freedom: based on the assumption of the necessity of upholding a logical separation of facts and values or descriptive and normative statements, the demand is made that science should proceed in a neutral manner, free from all infection by personal, ethical, moral, social or cultural values, with the scientist actively desisting from deriving ‘ought from is’ or ‘values from facts’.


Richard Schaefer (2017) defines value neutrality:

Max Weber's term for objectivity of sociologists in the interpretation of data.

associated issues


related areas

See also

critical social research




Delanty G. and Strydom, P., 2003, Philosophies of Social Science, London, McGraw-Hill.

Schaefer, R. T., 2017, 'Glossary' in Sociology: A brief introduction, Fourth Edition, originally c. 2000, McGraw-Hill. Available at, site dated 2017, accessed 11 June 2017, 'not found' 1 June 2019.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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