Activism and objectivity in political research

Michael L. Frazer

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Abstract

There are two opposed views on the proper relationship between academic research and political activism. The first argues that academics who study politics must remain objective, hence precluding activism. The second argues that academics can and should also be political activists, hence precluding scholarly objectivity. This article argues against an assumption shared by these otherwise opposing positions: that activism and objectivity are incompatible. It conceptually identifies and then normatively defends a form of objectivity characterized by active engagement with evidence that is what Max Weber calls “inconvenient” for one’s existing beliefs and commitments. Far from being incompatible with political activism, this form of objectivity is essential to its success. Since scholars, activists, and scholar-activists alike would all benefit from active engagement with inconvenient evidence, I conclude that academic institutions should promote this form of objectivity among both activist and non-activist scholars, while political organizations should promote the same virtue among both academic and non-academic activists.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1258-1269
Number of pages12
JournalPerspectives on Politics
Volume21
Issue number4
Early online date5 Apr 2023
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023

Keywords

  • activism
  • objectivity
  • neutrality
  • impartiality
  • ambivalent partisanship
  • Weber Max

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