Objective but Not Detached: Partisanship in Industrial Relations Research

By Darlington, Ralph; Dobson, John | Capital & Class, June 2013 | Go to article overview

Objective but Not Detached: Partisanship in Industrial Relations Research


Darlington, Ralph, Dobson, John, Capital & Class


Introduction

Eric Hobsbawm (1998: 164) observed that although there has been a great deal of discussion about the nature, or even the possibility, of objectivity in the social sciences, there has been far less discussion about the problem of 'partisanship'. Certainly this has been true of the academic field of industrial relations (IR). On the one hand, based on the predominant 'pluralist' IR paradigm that there are fundamental differences of interest between employees and employers, many IR researchers and theorists have long been concerned with the problem of balancing competing objectives of different stakeholders--to use Budd's (2004) phrase, 'balancing equity, efficiency and voice'--and the advocacy of a normative view of the requirements for improving labour-market institutions, policies and practices (Kochan, 1998: 37). On the other hand, IR academics have generally also tended to posit a strong belief in the value of critical social science research premised on the notion of academic impartiality and objectivity that is not aligned to the economic or political priorities of either employers or unions (Bain and Clegg 1974; Winchester 1983; Berrill, 1983; Sisson 1991; BUIRA 2008). Although it is in Britain now largely taught in business schools, it could be argued that this differentiates IR from other 'management' subjects such as mainstream human resource management (HRM) and professional courses leading to membership of the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD), as well as from shop steward and trade union studies courses. Instead, academic IR is about generating understanding through scholarship that investigates the employment relationship from an impartial vantage point and in a critically questioning fashion towards all actors and parties. Such objectivity suggests the exclusion of partisanship (of 'taking sides'). In the process it also raises the related (albeit not synonymous) issue of whether social research science research generally can, or should, be value-free, or at least value-neutral.

The question of whether partisanship is an unavoidable feature of social science research is especially pertinent for a field of study as potentially value-laden as industrial relations. This article re-examines some classic philosophy of science dilemmas to demonstrate that much industrial relations research, far from being completely impartial or value-free, is often effectively partisan, albeit this is usually not explicitly acknowledged. Focusing on the 'radical/critical' contribution to IR scholarship, it goes on to argue that IR can at one and the same time be both partisan and objective, and provides a defence of partisanship that is underpinned by rigorous scholarly research methodology.

Objectivity, value neutrality, partisanship and bias

One of the key assumptions during the first half of the 20th century was that social science could mirror the natural sciences and produce 'objective' knowledge, which uncovered the true nature of the social world in exactly the same way as scientists had discovered the 'laws' of physics, chemistry and biology. The task of the social scientist was to hold up a mirror to society, producing a 'warts-and-all' image that may not be acceptable to the viewer (Rothschild 1982). It was widely believed that this necessitated a commitment on the part of social scientists to the ideal of 'value neutrality' (Hammersley 2000: I). For some, 'value-neutrality' means that research should be wholly independent of all values, and concerned with the pursuit of theoretical or factual knowledge for its own sake; while for others, value-neutrality is treated as a principle (or ideal) that guides the behaviour of researchers, so that whilst not renouncing their values, they must set them aside and not seek to promote them through their research. Defenders of value-neutrality often draw a distinction between the objective factual evidence of their research and any subjective evaluation of its implications and consequences, drawing no relationship whatsoever between the two. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Objective but Not Detached: Partisanship in Industrial Relations Research
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.