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Making Value Judgements: Qualitative Thinking
Looking for meaning in the world and making value judgements is an inescapable part of being human. It is through language that ideas of value are articulated. But the degree to which words are able to give precise meanings is open to dispute. Attempts to quantify and measure come up against particular problems when dealing with human society, rather than the rest of the natural world.
A category such as 'the economy' is often used without reference to the activities that are most valued by individuals. How and why greater value is attributed in certain societies to one type of activity as opposed to another, necessarily requires analyses of what is meant by 'value' and how that understanding is contingent and variable.
Anyone following the news will be struck by the dramatic shifts from the quantitative to the qualitative. One minute the discussion centres on the statistics for migration or the proportion of the population over 65, the next it is dealing with individual experiences and attitudes within society. Qualitative judgements can seldom be separated from the complexities of applying quantitative methods.
The overall approach of this module is to put questions of value in historical context so that its contingency and variability are understood in relation to change. It also puts those questions in relation to geographical variations within our time. Wider debates are introduced with the aim of involving students as participants in the discussion of 'how and why we make value judgements'.
Teaching and learning is structured around two lectures and one course-related activity per week.
The lecture itself may take the form of a public conversation in which a practitioner in a field (for example, an expert from Christie's). Questions of value are viewed from different angles while coherence is given by establishing a dialogue between different disciplines. Course-related activities are designed to allow students to experiment with and test ideas. For example, making a 5-10 minute taped interview when studying how and why meaning has been attributed to work. Apart from reading written texts, students are expected to familiarise themselves with and study a range of materials in different media, and to develop a critical awareness of the significance of the medium for ideas about value.
- to develop an understanding and appreciation of a range of approaches to value.
- to engage with the notion of value in everyday speech and situations as well as within specialised languages.
- to examine how conceptions of value are formulated within and between different disciplines.
- to raise questions about the relationship of quantitative and qualitative methodologies.
This course is taught in Year 2.
- Weeks 1-2 Subjective Experience in Philosophy and Literature: questions are asked about what cannot be described in a public language
- Weeks 3-4 Labour, Work, and Society: How has the meaning of forms of work changed as a result of social and technological transformations since the industrial revolution?
- Weeks 5-6 Other, Alterity and Empire: What does a non-Eurocentric perspective entail for how cultural value has been understood?
- Weeks 7-8 Visual Arts, Aura, and Judgement: Why are some works of art considered more ‘valuable’ than others?
- Weeks 9-10 Qualititative Judgements in Science and Engineering: Sometimes overlooked, such qualities as beauty, social effectiveness and cultural appropriateness are often decisive in engineering and technology decisions.