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  The concept of values is a term used by social scientists to refer to generalized, abstract ideas held by human individuals or groups about what is desirable, proper, good or bad. Differing values are an important aspect of the diversity of human cultures. What individuals value is strongly influenced by the culture of the society in which they happen to live. The concept of values is particularly important for the functionalist school of thought within the social sciences. Proponents of this school believe that through the process of socialization values become internalized (see internalization) by individual members of society, and these values are used to guide their activities. According to this perspective, it is this value consensus which provides the basis of social order.

In Marxist sociology, value has an entirely different meaning: it refers to the quantity of labour power, measured in units of time, which on average is necessary to produce a commodity. Marx recognized that value in this sense did not correspond to actual prices. It was this discrepancy that Marx believed best revealed the social relations underlying the capitalist economy.

Another sense in which the concept of values is used within social science is with reference to ethical ideals and beliefs about how things ought to be, in particular where such views are held to be unscientific. Value freedom is the view that sociology can and should conduct research scientifically excluding any influence of the researchers\' values. Max Weber argued that even if sociologists were unable to exclude all biases introduced into their work by their own values they could at least make clear what these values are and how they affect their work.

The notion of value freedom, or neutrality as it is sometimes called, also operates at an institutional level. It is argued that academic sociologists should not use their professional status as teachers to dictate values to students. On the issue of value freedom a number of objections have been made. It is argued that even if researchers personally declare value neutrality, it is still possible for values unwittingly to intrude into research. Indeed, it is argued, that it is not clear whether value neutrality, even in principle, is actually possible. Finally, some suggest that maybe value neutrality is not always desirable and that on some questions at least nobody should be neutral. DA

See also consensus theory; norm; positivism; role; social integration; social stratification; society; sociology of knowledge.Further reading P.S. Cohen, Modern Social Theory.



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