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Subjectivism in Social Science Research

Subjectivism is a word that has many different meanings. And it depends on the context in which you use it. In real world every human being is a subject and hence has his/her own subjectivity. This subjectivity is dependent on the perceptions, understandings, feelings, and experiences of the subject. No two persons can have similar opinions, feelings, or perceptions.

In the world of science and research subjectivity has a lot different connotations. Because, science disregard the idea that a subjective understanding of the world can help understand a phenomenon. Thus science regards subjectivity as a form of bias that can lead to misunderstanding and wrong analysis of a situation.

Subjectivism is a term that is often coined with social science research. You cannot completely avoid subjectivity in social sciences. But it goes without saying that you can minimize the way subjectivity impacts your research. You can use different techniques to minimize bias. Social science researcher use these techniques constantly. There are two point of views regarding subjectivity in qualitative research: subjective processes and qualitative research methods and instruments bring objectivity in the social science research; other point of view is that subjectivity hinders with unbiased treatment of research. So, there are few points that can help us understand how subjectivity is helping in qualitative research.

The Paradigm

The way a researcher looks at the subjectivity is highly dependent on the paradigm that he is following. A positivist may take subjectivity a hindrance in understanding and solving a phenomenon. Conversely, an interpretivist may take subjectivity as a way to understand the cultures and world. An interpretivist accepts subjective differences between similar phenomena that take place at different places. Positivists believe in generalization of research findings so do the interpretivists and qualitative researchers. The difference is in the way both generalize their findings. If you take out subjectivity from the qualitative research the subjects will become mere objects. Therefore, social science does not treat subjectivity as a hindrance but uses it to solve social problems.

Social science and subjectivity

A s we learnt that social science research is not free of subjectivity. Also that social science research deals with subjectivity as a tool to solve the problems. The question arises why subjectivity becomes questionable by some scientists and researchers. Subjectivity can lead to bias if it is not handled in the right manner.

There can be two kinds of subjectivity: the subjectivity of the research samples; and the subjectivity of the researcher. So, the subjectivity that is inherent to the research subjects help in understanding a phenomenon in his/her cultural context. On the contrary, the researchers’ subjectivity can introduce bias in the research. The researcher can bring bias at any stage of the research process.

How to reduce this subjectivity that is based on the researchers’ past experiences? The best way is that the researcher understands and accepts his/her subjective opinions that can hinder the research. In this way, he/she can use techniques and tools that can limit the bias in the research.

There are many ways to reduce bias in research due to subjective experiences. These include peer-review, triangulation, double-check, rigor and control, prolong involvement, and corroboration etc. These tools help the researcher in maintaining that bias is minimized. But first every researcher should acknowledge the type of subjective bias that can hinder his research.

References

  • MacKellar, F., “Subjectivity”.
    http://www.sfu.ca/educ867/htm/subjectivity.htm
  • Leung, Lawrence. “Validity, reliability, and generalizability in qualitative research.” Journal of family medicine and primary care vol. 4,3 (2015): 324-7. doi:10.4103/2249-4863.161306

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