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Whose Side Are We On?

Author(s): Howard S. Becker


Source: Social Problems, Vol. 14, No. 3 (Winter, 1967), pp. 239-247
Published by: University of California Press on behalf of the Society for the Study of Social Problems
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WHOSE SIDE ARE WE ON?*

HOWARD S. BECKER
Northwestern University

To have values or not to have only read the results.Will the research,
values: the question is alwayswith us. we wonder, be distorted by that sym-
When sociologists undertaketo study pathy? Will it be of use in the con-
problems that have relevance to the structionof scientifictheory or in the
world we live in, they find themselves application of scientific knowledge to
caught in a crossfire.Some urge them the practicalproblems of society? Or
not to take sides, to be neutraland do will the bias introducedby taking sides
researchthat is technicallycorrectand spoil it for those uses?
value free. Others tell them their work We seldom make the feeling ex-
is shallow and useless if it does not plicit. Instead,it appearsas a lingering
express a deep commitmentto a value worry for sociological readers, who
position. would like to be sure they can trust
This dilemma,which seems so pain- what they read,and a troublesomearea
ful to so many, actuallydoes not exist, of self-doubt for those who do the
for one of its horns is imaginary.For research, who would like to be sure
it to exist, one would have to assume, that whateversympathiesthey feel are
as some apparentlydo, that it is indeed not professionally unseemly and will
possible to do researchthat is uncon- not, in any case, seriously flaw their
taminated by personal and political work. That the worry affects both
sympathies.I propose to argue that it readers and researchersindicates that
is not possible and, therefore,that the it lies deeperthan the superficialdiffer-
questionis not whetherwe should take ences that divide sociological schools
sides, since we inevitably will, but of thought, and that its roots must be
ratherwhose side we are on. sought in characteristicsof society that
I will begin by consideringthe prob- affect us all, whatever our method-
lem of taking sides as it arises in the ological or theoreticalpersuasion.
study of deviance. An inspection of If the feeling were made explicit, it
this case will soon reveal to us features would take the form of an accusation
that appear in sociological researchof that the sympathiesof the researcher
all kinds. In the greatestvarietyof sub- have biasedhis work and distortedhis
ject matterareasand in work done by findings.Before exploringits structural
all the different methods at our dis- roots, let us considerwhat the manifest
posal, we cannot avoid taking sides, meaningof the chargemight be.
for reasonsfirmlybasedin social struc- It might mean that we have acquired
ture. some sympathy with the group we
We may sometimesfeel that studies study sufficientto deter us from pub-
of deviance exhibit too great a sym- lishing those of our results which
pathy with the people studied, a sym- might prove damaging to them. One
can imagine a liberal sociologist who
pathy reflectedin the researchcarried set out to disprove some of the com-
out. This feeling, I suspect, is enter-
tained off and on both by those of us mon stereotypesheld about a minority
who do such researchand by those of group. To his dismay,his investigation
us who, our work lying in other areas, reveals that some of the stereotypes
are unfortunatelytrue. In the interests
of justiceand liberalism,he might well
*Presidential address, delivered at the an- be tempted, and might even succumb
nual meeting of the Society for the Study
of Social Problems, Miami Beach, August, to the temptation, to suppress those
1966. findings, publishing with scientific
240 SOCIAL PROBLEMS

candor the other results which con- have still not proved it false. Recog-
firmed his beliefs. nizing the point and promising to
But this seems not really to be the address it eventually, I shall turn to
heartof the charge,becausesociologists the typical situations in which the
who study deviance do not typically accusationof bias arises.
hide things about the people they When do we accuse ourselves and
study. They are mostly willing to grant our fellow sociologistsof bias? I think
that there is something going on that an inspection of representative in-
put the deviants in the position they stances would show that the accusa-
are in, even if they are not willing to tion arises, in one importantclass of
grant that it is what the people they cases,when the researchgives credence,
studied were originally accusedof. in any serious way, to the perspective
A more likely meaning of the of the subordinategroup in some hier-
charge, I think, is this. In the course archical relationship. In the case of
of our work and for who knows what deviance, the hierarchicalrelationship
private reasons,we fall into deep sym- is a moral one. The superordinate
pathy with the people we are studying, parties in the relationship are those
so that while the rest of the society who representthe forces of approved
views them as unfit in one or another and official morality; the subordinate
respect for the deference ordinarily parties are those who, it is alleged,
accorded a fellow citizen, we believe have violated that morality.
that they are at least as good as anyone Though deviance is a typical case,
else, more sinned againstthan sinning. it is by no means the only one. Similar
Because of this, we do not give a bal- situations,and similarfeelings that our
anced picture. We focus too much on work is biased, occur in the study of
questionswhose answersshow that the schools, hospitals,asylumsand prisons,
supposeddeviantis morallyin the right in the study of physical as well as
and the ordinarycitizen morallyin the mental illness, in the study of both
wrong. We neglect to ask those ques- "normal" and delinquent youth. In
tions whose answers would show that these situations,the superordinatepar-
the deviant, after all, has done some- ties are usually the officialand profes-
thing pretty rotten and, indeed, pretty sional authorities in charge of some
much deserveswhat he gets. In conse- importantinstitution,while the subor-
quence, our overall assessmentof the dinates are those who make use of the
problem being studied is one-sided. services of that institution. Thus, the
What we produce is a whitewash of police are the superordinates,drug ad-
the deviant and a condemnation, if dicts are the subordinates;professors
only by implication,of those respecta- and administrators, principals and
ble citizens who, we think, have made teachers,are the superordinates,while
the deviantwhat he is. students and pupils are the subordi-
It is to this version that I devote nates; physicians are the superordi-
the rest of my remarks. I will look nates, their patients the subordinates.
first, however, not at the truth or All of these cases representone of
falsity of the charge, but ratherat the the typical situations in which re-
circumstancesin which it is typically searchers accuse themselves and are
made and felt. The sociologyof knowl- accused of bias. It is a situation in
edge cautionsus to distinguishbetween which, while conflictand tension exist
the truth of a statementand an assess- in the hierarchy,the conflict has not
ment of the circumstancesunderwhich become openly political. The conflict-
that statement is made; though we ing segments or ranks are not orga-
trace an argumentto its source in the nized for conflict;no one attemptsto
interestsof the personwho made it, we alter the shape of the hierarchy.While
Whose Side Are We On? 241

subordinatesmay complain about the poses of our research,that subordinates


treatmentthey receivefrom those above have as much right to be heard as
them, they do not propose to move to superordinates,that they are as likely
a position of equalitywith them, or to to be telling the truth as they see it as
reverse positions in the hierarchy. superordinates, that what they say
Thus, no one proposes that addicts about the institutionhas a right to be
should make and enforce laws for investigatedand have its truth or fal-
policemen, that patients should pre- sity established, even though respon-
scribe for doctors, or that adolescents sible officials assure us that it is un-
should give orders to adults. We can necessarybecausethe chargesare false.
call this the apoliticalcase. We can use the notion of a hier-
In the second case, the accusationof archy of credibilityto understandthis
bias is made in a situation that is phenomenon.In any system of ranked
frankly political. The parties to the groups, participants take it as given
hierarchical relationship engage in that members of the highest group
organizedconflict,attemptingeither to have the right to define the way things
maintain or change existing relations really are. In any organization, no
of power and authority. Whereas in matter what the rest of the organiza-
the first case subordinatesare typically tion chartshows, the arrowsindicating
unorganizedand thus have, as we shall the flow of informationpoint up, thus
see, little to fear from a researcher, demonstrating(at least formally) that
subordinateparties in a political situa- those at the top have accessto a more
tion may have much to lose. When complete picture of what is going on
the situationis political, the researcher than anyone else. Members of lower
may accuse himself or be accused of groups will have incomplete informa-
bias by someone else when he gives tion, and their view of reality will be
credence to the perspective of either partial and distorted in consequence.
party to the political conflict. I leave Therefore,from the point of view of a
the political for later and turn now to well socialized participantin the sys-
the problem of bias in apoliticalsitua- tem, any tale told by those at the top
tions.1 intrinsically deserves to be regarded
We provoke the suspicion that we as the most credibleaccountobtainable
are biased in favor of the subordinate of the organizations'workings. And
parties in an apolitical arrangement since, as Sumner pointed out, matters
when we tell the story from their of rank and statusare containedin the
point of view. We may, for instance, mores,2this belief has a moral quality.
investigate their complaints, even We are, if we are proper membersof
though they are subordinates, about the group, morallybound to acceptthe
the way things are run just as though definition imposed on reality by a
one ought to give their complaintsas superordinategroup in preference to
much credence as the statements of the definitions espoused by subordin-
responsible officials. We provoke the ates. (By analogy, the same argument
charge when we assume, for the pur- holds for the social classes of a com-
1 No situation is necessarily political or munity.) Thus, credibility and the
apolitical. An apolitical situation can be right to be heard are differentiallydis-
transformed into a political one by the tributed through the ranks of the
open rebellion of subordinate ranks, and a system.
political situation can subside into one in As sociologists, we provoke the
which an accommodation has been reached
and a new hierarchy been accepted by the
participants. The categories, while analyti- 2 William Graham Sumner, "Status in
cally useful, do not represent a fixed divi- the Folkways,"Folkways,New York: New
sion existing in real life. AmericanLibrary,1960, pp. 72-73.
242 SOCIAL PROBLEMS

chargeof bias, in ourselvesand others, to their account of how the adult


by refusing to give credenceand defer- world treatsthem. But why do we not
ence to an establishedstatus order, in accuse other sociologists who study
which knowledge of truth and the youth of being biased in favor of
right to be heard are not equally dis- adults? Most researchon youth, after
tributed. "Everyone knows" that re- all, is clearlydesigned to find out why
sponsible professionals know more youth are so troublesomefor adults,
about things than laymen, that police rather than asking the equally inter-
are more respectableand their words esting sociologicalquestion: "Why do
ought to be taken more seriouslythan adults make so much trouble for
those of the deviants and criminals youth?"Similarly,we accusethose who
with whom they deal. By refusing to take the complaintsof mental patients
accept the hierarchyof credibility,we seriously of bias; what about those
express disrespectfor the entire estab- sociologists who only take seriously
lished order. the complaintsof physicians, families
We compound our sin and further and othersaboutmentalpatients?
provoke charges of bias by not giving Why this disproportionin the direc-
immediate attention and "equal time" tion of accusationsof bias? Why do
to the apologies and explanations of we more often accuse those who are
official authority.If, for instance, we on the side of subordinatesthan those
are concernedwith studying the way who are on the side of superordinates?
of life inmates in a mental hospital Because, when we make the former
build up for themselves,we will natu- accusation, we have, like the well
rally be concernedwith the constraints socialized members of our society
and conditions created by the actions most of us are, acceptedthe hierarchy
of the administratorsand physicians of credibility and taken over the
who run the hospital. But, unless we accusationmadeby responsibleofficials.
also make the administrators and The reasonresponsibleofficialsmake
physiciansthe object of our study (a the accusationso frequentlyis precisely
possibility I will consider later), we becausethey are responsible.They have
will not inquire into why those con- been entrustedwith the careand opera-
ditions and constraints are present. tion of one or anotherof our important
We will not give responsibleofficials institutions:schools, hospitals,law en-
a chance to explain themselves and forcement, or whatever. They are the
give their reasons for acting as they ones who, by virtue of their official
do, a chance to show why the com- position and the authority that goes
plaints of inmatesare not justified. with it, are in a position to "do some-
It is odd that, when we perceive thing" when things are not what they
bias, we usuallysee it in these circum- should be and, similarly,are the ones
stances. It is odd because it is easily who will be held to account if they
ascertained that a great many more fail to "do something"or if what they
studies are biased in the direction of do is, for whateverreason,inadequate.
the interests of responsible officials Becausethey are responsiblein this
than the other way around. We may way, officialsusually have to lie. That
accusean occasionalstudentof medical is a gross way of putting it, but not
sociology of having given too much inaccurate.Officials must lie because
emphasisto the complaintsof patients. things are seldom as they ought to be.
But it is not obviousthat most medical For a great variety of reasons, well-
sociologists look at things from the known to sociologists, institutions are
point of view of the doctors? A few refractory.They do not perform as
sociologists may be sufficientlybiased society would like them to. Hospitals
in favor of youth to grant credibility do not cure people; prisons do not re-
Whose Side Are We On? 243

habilitate prisoners; schools do not someone maligns it. The sociologist


educate students. Since they are sup- who favors officialdomwill be spared
posed to, officials develop ways both the accusationof bias.
of denying the failure of the institu- And thus we see why we accuse
tion to perform as it should and ex- ourselves of bias only when we take
plaining those failureswhich cannotbe the side of the subordinate.It is be-
hidden. An accountof an institution's cause, in a situationthat is not openly
operation from the point of view of political, with the major issues defined
subordinatestherefore casts doubt on as arguable,we join responsible offi-
the official line and may possibly ex- cials and the man in the street in an
pose it as a lie.3 unthinkingacceptanceof the hierarchy
For reasonsthat are a mirrorimage of credibility.We assume with them
of those of officials,subordinatesin an that the man at the top knows best.
We do not realize that there are sides
apoliticalhierarchicalrelationshiphave
no reason to complain of the bias of to be taken and that we are taking
sociological research oriented toward one of them.
the interestsof superordinates.Subordi- The same reasoning allows us to
nates typically are not organized in understandwhy the researcherhas the
such a fashion as to be responsiblefor same worry about the effect of his
the overall operationof an institution. sympathieson his work as his unin-
What happens in a school is credited volved colleague. The hierarchy of
or debited to the faculty and adminis- credibilityis a featureof societywhose
trators;they can be identifiedand held existence we cannot deny, even if we
to account.Even though the failure of disagree with its injunction to believe
a school may be the fault of the pupils, the man at the top. When we acquire
they are not so organizedthat any one sufficientsympathywith subordinatesto
of them is responsiblefor any failure see things from their perspective,we
but his own. If he does well, while know that we are flying in the face of
others all around him flounder, cheat what "everyoneknows." The knowl-
and steal, that is none of his affair, edge gives us pause and causes us to
despite the attempt of honor codes to share, however briefly, the doubt of
make it so. As long as the sociological our colleagues.
When a situation has been defined
report on his school says that every
student there but one is a liar and a politically, the second type of case I
cheat,all the studentswill feel compla- want to discuss, mattersare quite dif-
cent, knowing they are the one excep- ferent. Subordinateshave some degree
tion. More likely, they will never hear of organizationand, with that, spokes-
of the reportat all or, if they do, will men, their equivalent of responsible
reason that they will be gone before officials.Spokesmen,while they cannot
long, so what differencedoes it make? actually be held responsible for what
The lack of organizationamongsubor-- membersof their group do, makeasser-
dinate membersof an institutionalized tions on their behalf and are held re-
relationshipmeans that, having no re- sponsible for the truth of those asser-
tions. The group engages in political
sponsibility for the group's welfare,
they likewise have no complaints if activity designed to change existing
hierarchicalrelationshipsand the credi-
3 I have stated a portion of this argu- bility of its spokesmendirectly affects
ment more briefly in "Problems of Publica- its political fortunes. Credibilityis not
tion of Field Studies," in Arthur Vidich, the only influence, but the group can
Joseph Bensman, and Maurice Stein (Eds.), ill-affordhaving the definitionof real-
Reflections on Community Studies, New
York: John Wiley and Sons, 1964, pp. 267- ity proposed by its spokesmen dis-
284. credited, for the immediate conse-
244 SOCIAL PROBLEMS

quence will be some loss of political know, for instance,that we must grasp
power. the perspectivesof both the resident
Superordinate groups have their of Watts and of the Los Angeles
spokesmentoo, and they are confronted policeman if we are to understand
with the same problem: to make state- what went on in that outbreak.
ments about reality that are politically Second, it is no secret that most
effective without being easily dis- sociologists are politically liberal to
credited.The political fortunes of the one degree or another. Our political
superordinate group-its ability to preferencesdictate the side we will be
hold the status changes demanded by on and, since those preferences are
lower groups to a minimum-do not sharedby most of our colleagues, few
depend as much on credibility,for the are ready to throw the first stone or
group has other kinds of power avail- are even aware that stone-throwingis
able as well. a possibility.We usually take the side
When we do researchin a political of the underdog; we are for Negroes
situation we are in double jeopardy, and against Fascists.We do not think
for the spokesmen of both involved anyone biased who does researchde-
groups will be sensitiveto the implica- signed to prove that the former are
tions of our work. Since they propose not as bad as people think or that the
openly conflictingdefinitionsof reality, latter are worse. In fact, in these cir-
our statementof our problem is in it- cumstances we are quite willing to
self likely to call into question and regardthe questionof bias as a matter
make problematic,at least for the pur- to be dealt with by the use of technical
poses of our research,one or the other safeguards.
definition. And our resultswill do the We are thus apt to take sides with
same. equal innocence and lack of thought,
The hierarchyof credibilityoperates though for different reasons, in both
in a different way in the political apolitical and political situations. In
situation than it does in the apolitical the first, we adopt the commonsense
one. In the political situation, it is view which awards unquestioned
precisely one of the things at issue. credibility to the responsible official.
Since the political struggle calls into (This is not to deny that a few of us,
question the legitimacyof the existing because something in our experience
rank system, it necessarily calls into has alertedthem to the possibility,may
question at the same time the legiti- question the conventionalhierarchyof
macy of the associatedjudgments of credibility in the special area of our
credibility. Judgments of who has a expertise.) In the second case, we take
right to define the nature of reality our politics so for grantedthat it sup-
that are taken for granted in an apoli- plants convention in dictating whose
tical situation become matters of side we will be on. (I do not deny,
argument. either, that some few sociologists may
Oddly enough, we are, I think, less deviate politically from their liberal
likely to accuse ourselves and one colleagues, either to the right or the
anotherof bias in a politicalthan in an left, and thus be more liable to ques-
apolitical situation, for at least two tion that convention.)
reasons.First, becausethe hierarchyof In any event, even if our colleagues
credibilityhas been openly called into do not accuseus of bias in researchin
question, we are aware that there are a political situation, the interested
at least two sides to the story and so partieswill. Whether they are foreign
do not think it unseemlyto investigate politicians who object to studies of
the situation from one or another of how the stability of their government
the contending points of view. We may be maintainedin the interest of
Whose Side Are We On? 245

the United States (as in the Camelot or another side to a relationshipand


affair)4 or domesticcivil rights leaders will thus be affected,at least, by having
who object to an analysis of race suggested to him what the relevant
problems that centers on the alleged argumentsand issues are. A studentof
deficiencies of the Negro family (as medical sociology may decide that he
in the receptiongiven to the Moynihan will take neitherthe perspectiveof the
Report),5 interested parties are quick patient nor the perspective of the
to make accusationsof bias and dis- physician,but he will necessarilytake
tortion. They base the accusationnot a perspective that impinges on the
on failures of technique or method, many questions that arise between
but on conceptualdefects. They accuse physicians and patients; no matter
the sociologistnot of getting false data what perspective he takes, his work
but of not getting all the data relevant either will take into account the atti-
to the problem. They accuse him, in tude of subordinates,or it will not. If
other words, of seeing things from the he fails to considerthe questions they
perspective of only one party to the raise, he will be working on the side
conflict. But the accusationis likely to of the officials.If he does raise those
be made by interestedparties and not questionsseriouslyand does find, as he
by sociologists themselves. may, that there is some merit in them,
What I have said so far is all sociol- he will then expose himself to the
ogy of knowledge, suggesting by outrageof the officialsand of all those
whom, in what situationsand for what sociologists who award them the top
reasons sociologists will be accusedof spot in the hierarchy of credibility.
bias and distortion.I have not yet ad- Almost all the topics that sociologists
dressed the question of the truth of study, at least those that have some
the accusations,of whether our find- relation to the real world around us,
ings are distortedby our sympathyfor are seen by society as morality plays
those we study.I have implied a partial and we shall find ourselves,willy-nilly,
answer, namely, that there is no posi- taking part in those plays on one side
tion from which sociological research or the other.
can be done that is not biased in one There is another possibility. We
or another way. may, in some cases, take the point of
We must always look at the matter view of some third party not directly
from someone's point of view. The implicated in the hierarchy we are
scientist who proposes to understand investigating. Thus, a Marxist might
societymust, as Mead long ago pointed feel that it is not worth distinguishing
out, get into the situation enough to between Democrats and Republicans,
have a perspective on it. And it is or between big businessand big labor,
likely that his perspective will be in each case both groups being equally
greatly affected by whatever positions inimicalto the interestsof the workers.
are taken by any or all of the other This would indeed make us neutral
participants in that varied situation. with respect to the two groups at
Even if his participationis limited to hand, but would only mean that we
readingin the field, he will necessarily had enlargedthe scope of the political
read the argumentsof partisansof one conflict to include a party not ordi-
narily brought in whose view the
4 See Irving Louis Horowitz, "The Life sociologist was taking.
and Death of Project Camelot," Transac- We can never avoid taking sides.
tion, 3 (Nov./Dec., 1965), pp. 3-7, 44-47. So we are left with the question of
5 See Lee Rainwater and William L.
whether taking sides means that some
Yancey, "Black Families and the White distortion is introducedinto our work
House," ibid., 3 (July/August, 1966, pp.
6-11, 48-53). so great as to make it useless. Or, less
246 SOCIAL PROBLEMS

drastically,whether some distortionis methodology are no help here. They


introduced that must be taken into tell us how to guard againsterror,but
accountbefore the resultsof our work they do not tell us how to make sure
can be used. I do not refer here to that we will use all the safeguards
feeling that the picture given by the available to us. We can, for a start,
researchis not "balanced,"the indig- try to avoid sentimentality.We are
nation aroused by having a conven- sentimentalwhen we refuse, for what-
tionally discrediteddefinition of real- ever reason,to investigatesome matter
ity given priority or equality with that should properly be regarded as
what "everyoneknows," for it is clear problematic. We are sentimental, es-
that we cannot avoid that. That is the pecially, when our reason is that we
problem of officials, spokesmen and would prefer not to know what is
interestedparties, not ours. Our prob- going on, if to know would be to
lem is to make sure that, whatever violate some sympathywhose existence
point of view we take, our research we may not even be aware of. What-
meets the standardsof good scientific ever side we are on, we must use our
work, that our unavoidablesympathies techniques impartially enough that a
do not renderour resultsinvalid. belief to which we are especiallysym-
We might distort our findings, be- pathetic could be proved untrue. We
cause of our sympathywith one of the must alwaysinspect our work carefully
parties in the relationship we are enough to know whether our tech-
studying, by misusing the tools and niques and theories are open enough
techniquesof our discipline.We might to allow that possibility.
introduce loaded questions into a Let us consider,finally, what might
questionnaire,or act in some way in a seem a simple solution to the problems
field situation such that people would posed. If the difficultyis that we gain
be constrainedto tell us only the kind sympathywith underdogsby studying
of thing we are already in sympathy them, is it not also true that the super-
with. All of our research techniques ordinatesin a hierarchicalrelationship
are hedged about with precautionary usually have their own superordinates
measures designed to guard against with whom they must contend? Is it
these errors. Similarly, though more not true that we might study those
abstractly,every one of our theories superordinates or subordinates, pre-
presumablycontains a set of directives senting their point of view on their
which exhaustivelycovers the field we relationswith their superiorsand thus
are to study, specifying all the things gaining a deeper sympathywith them
we are to look at and take into account and avoiding the bias of one-sided
in our research.By using our theories identificationwith those below them?
and techniques impartially,we ought This is appealing, but deceptively so.
to be able to study all the things that For it only meansthat we will get into
need to be studied in such a way as to the same trouble with a new set of
get all the facts we require, even officials.
though some of the questionsthat will It is true, for instance, that the ad-
be raised and some of the facts that ministratorsof a prison are not free to
will be produced run counter to our do as they wish, not free to be re-
biases. sponsive of the desires of inmates, for
But the question may be precisely instance.If one talks to such an official,
this. Given all our techniques of he will commonly tell us, in private,
theoreticaland technical control, how that of course the subordinatesin the
can we be sure that we will apply them relationshiphave some right on their
impartiallyand acrossthe boardas they side, but that they fail to understand
need to be applied? Our textbooks in that his desireto do betteris frustrated
Whose Side Are We On? 247

by his superiorsor by the regulations conditions are the same elsewhere. I


they have established.Thus, if a prison refer to a more sociological disclaimer
administratoris angered because we in which we say, for instance,that we
take the complaints of his inmates have studied the prison through the
seriously,we may feel that we can get eyes of the inmates and not through
around that and get a more balanced the eyes of the guards or other in-
picture by interviewing him and his volved parties. We warn people, thus,
associates.If we do, we may then write that our study tells us only how things
a report which his superiors will re- look from that vantage point-what
spond to with cries of "bias." They, kinds of objects guards are in the
in their turn, will say that we have not prisoners' world-and does not at-
presented a balanced picture, because tempt to explain why guards do what
we have not looked at their side of it. they do or to absolve the guards of
And we may worry that what they say what may seem, from the prisoners'
is true. side, morally unacceptable behavior.
The point is obvious. By pursuing This will not protect us from accusa-
this seemingly simple solution, we tions of bias, however, for the guards
arrive at a problem of infinite regress. will still be outragedby the unbalanced
For everyone has someone standing picture. If we implicitly accept the
above him who prevents him from conventional hierarchy of credibility,
doing things just as he likes. If we we will feel the sting in that accusation.
question the superiors of the prison It is something of a solution to say
administrator,a state department of that over the years each "one-sided"
correctionsor prisons, they will com- study will provoke further studies
plain of the governor and the legisla- that graduallyenlarge our grasp of all
ture. And if we go to the governor the relevant facets of an institution's
and the legislature,they will complain operation.But that is a long-termsolu-
of lobbyists,partymachines,the public tion, and not much help to the in-
and the newspapers.There is no end dividualresearcherwho has to contend
to it and we can never have a "bal- with the anger of officialswho feel he
anced picture" until we have studied has done them wrong, the criticismof
all of society simultaneously.I do not those of his colleagueswho think he is
propose to hold my breath until that presenting a one-sided view, and his
happy day. own worries.
We can, I think, satisfythe demands What do we do in the meantime?
of our science by always making clear I suppose the answersare more or less
the limits of what we have studied, obvious.We take sides as our personal
marking the boundariesbeyond which and political commitmentsdictate, use
our findings cannot be safely applied.
Not just the conventional disclaimer, our theoreticaland technical resources
in which we warn that we have only to avoid the distortions that might
studied a prison in New York or Cali- introduceinto our work, limit our con-
fornia and the findings may not hold dusions carefully, recognize the hier-
in the other forty-nine states-which archyof credibilityfor what is is, and
is not a useful procedureanyway,since field as best we can the accusations
the findings may very well hold if the and doubtsthat will surelybe our fate.