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Neutral or clear?

Is it possible to imagine contexts that are entirely value free? That is a question that is raised at regular intervals when values, norms and neutrality are discussed. Should we formulate ethical policies and values within higher education, or does this fly in the face of scientific objectivity?

It is good that these questions are asked as it reminds us of the different stances that need to be discussed by students, researchers and other university staff. And by everyone who thinks that research and education are important elements in a democratic society.

There are scientific ideals to defend that concern things such as research ethics, transparency, independence and integrity. Other scientific ideals include defending critical thinking and opportunities to revisit matters we think we already know.

Research always starts from a certain position in a certain context, which influences both assumptions and questioning. When researching, it is important to be aware of what stances and values are incorporated into the assumptions that are made, and to make these clear and visible. In work environments and study environments, one can think along similar lines.

While no culture is value free, there are dialogues that are more or less aware of the prevailing values. Common wishes as to expressed norms and values can be formulated in such dialogues, for example, to show respect in meetings between people or to share opportunities to speak.

It is also good to talk about what types of behaviour or comments are not desirable or acceptable. Of being neutral in relation to other people in the sense of treating everyone in an equal way is perhaps something to aim for. However, this is best done by becoming more aware of the importance of values and talking about these.

Awareness is about how we live our values in everyday life at all times and how words can be turned into deeds. That is often when values become visible, for both ourselves and others.