Strong Objectivity and Value Neutrality

My previous blog left the ‘strong objectivity’ door open…

As I enter the room I am amazed as to how crowded it is in here!

Harding (1995) describes, strong objectivity in simple terms as ‘learning to see ourselves as others see us’ (Harding: 204). However, as I am already beginning to ascertain, there is no such term as simple where ‘research’ is concerned.  To begin with a feminist standpoint is bound by ‘epistemic relativism’, meaning that everyone’s truth ‘lived experience’ is valid, however social situatedness reminds the researcher of the significance of context.  The concept of epistemic relativism is common with ‘lay people’ or in relation to Participatory Action Research (PAR), the participant. As the saying often goes ‘you have your truth and I have mine’.  Strong objectivity comes into its own when it is considered from the perspective of a person who is in a disadvantaged position or a position which is not privileged.  Only then does a researcher gain the true understanding of ‘strong’ objectivity, juxtaposed to weak objectivity – the positivist perspective, whereby you are standing back and watching, been totally detached.

Value-Neutrality as defined by Max Weber (1864–1920), although not a term commonly used within nursing, it has great significance to the practise of nursing.  Weber (2013) does argue in favour of value-neutrality and value freedom.  All the same, the context and situation is primary towards ensuring the true meaning is of relevance to the situation. It relates to a need for recognising the difference between fact and emotion, along with the ability to not let emotion bias decision making when observing and or reporting on the facts.  Context is key, and within PAR needs to be both recognised and the considered, carefully.  A value-neutral attitude would be almost impossible to maintain, especially as the more we become involved in a particular situation, the more we begin to make judgements based on what we perceive to be ‘good’ or ‘bad’.  Registered nurses adhere to the Nursing and Midwifery Council Code of Conduct (2016), which informs the practitioner of the need to ‘prioritise people, practise effectively, preserve safety and promote professionalism and trust’.  These values and principles are open to interpretation, but are not negotiable or discretionary, therefore as a registered nurse I practise non-judgementally and will also endeavour to do so a researcher.

References

Harding, A. (1995) Starting from Marginalized Lives: A Conversation with Sandra Harding. Interviewed by Elizabeth Hirsh and Gary A. Olson. JAC: A Journal of Composition Theory, 15, pp. 193-225.

Nursing and Midwifery Council (2016) The Code: Professional standards of practice and behaviour for nurses and midwives. London: NMC.

Weber, M. (2013) From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology.  London: Routledge.

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