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After the Neutrality Ideal: Maximizing Objectivity Andrew Austin © 2009. Sandra Harding—After the Neutrality Ideal. Two types of politics in science: Politicization of science —Politics intrudes on “pure” science.

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After the Neutrality Ideal:

Maximizing Objectivity

Andrew Austin © 2009


Sandra Harding—After the Neutrality Ideal

  • Two types of politics in science:
  • Politicization of science—Politics intrudes on “pure” science.
  • Depoliticization of science—politics operates unnoticed through dominant institutional structures, priorities, practices and language of science.
  • Dominant science normalizes authoritarian politics through the politics of neutrality.

When challenges are made to the hegemony of dominant science, those who challenge the powers that be are depicted as threatening the neutrality of science. This counterattack functions to reproduce power and privilege.

Neutrality hides systematically distorted research results.


Neutrality ≠ objectivity

Epistemological relativism—different judgments are equally valid, equally good. Also called perspectivalism.

Sociological relativism—different sociocultural groups have different types of knowledge.

Objectivity  neutrality. One must be aware of how her/his ideas, perspectives, etc., are shaped by existence in society.

Objectivity  objectivism (the ideology of neutrality). Objectivism provides only partial knowledge because it denies that knowledge is historically and socially constituted.

Strong objectivity—all knowledge is socially situated. Maximal objectivity is obtained through critical exploration of the relations between subject and object.

Standpoint Epistemologies—“[I]f one wants to detect the values and interests that structure scientific institutions, practices, and conceptual schemes, it is useless to frame one’s research questions or to pursue them only within the priorities of these institutions, practices, and conceptual schemes. One must start from outside them to gain a causal, critical view of them.”


Internalist view—social science is autonomous with its institutional values. Political influence interferes with knowledge production.

Externalist view—social position affects science. Society is in science because society is in the scientist.

Institutional power and position—power structure within the institution of social science influence agendas.

Two kinds of science:

Technocratic—top-down approach benefiting corporations, the state, and the military

Democratic—bottom-up approach benefiting the people.

  • Three phases:
  • Dominated by the military. 1945-1965.
  • Government funding and private liberal foundations. 1950-75
  • Conservative countermovement. 1975-
  • The “uneasy partnership.” Do social scientists design and study and then search for funds? Or do they structure their research agenda in terms of subjects agencies want to fund?
  • Who controls research—who defines the problem, who sponsors/participates, who evaluates and uses the results.
  • Who benefitsm science, directly and indirectly

Here’s an example of how the government promoted the use of science to facilitate imperialism. This chart was presented to Congress encouraging investment in universities for political purposes serving the interests of elites.


“The historian’s distortion is…ideological; it is released into a world of contending interests, where any chosen emphasis supports…some kind of interest.”

“…the historian has been trained in a society in which education and knowledge are put forward as technical problems of excellence and not as tools for contending social classes….”

Howard Zinn


Michael Foucault

The production of knowledge is inherently political. Knowledge is not a striving to obtain consciousness for its own sake, but to be used as a weapon to undermine and capture power. Knowledge does not help us see better. Knowledge helps us fight better.

Intellectual’s role not to provide theory but to struggle against the forms of power they control: knowledge, truth, and discourse.