Methods of Interpretive Sociology

Methods of Interpretive Sociology

  • Summary
  • Overview
  • Key Readings

Should cultural meaning be understood in terms of psychological motivations and intentions, or in terms of collective codes and belief systems? Max Weber saw the task of the interpretive sociologist as that of reconstructing the objective and subjective rationality of ideal typical actors. Neo-Kantians, phenomenologists, critical interpretivists, pragmatists, symbolic interactionists, ethnomethodologists, cultural anthropologists and others have struggled for over a century over what such an approach entails. The development of an interpretive or verstehen approach to understanding social life draws itself in distinction from approaches that seek causal explanation in terms of variables external to the beliefs of social actors, but this collection attempts to disrupt the comfortable polarities between macro and micro, structure and agency, explanation and description that dog sociology and through which the term interpretive has been quarantined.

Editor's Introduction: Methods of Interpretive Sociology


The Rationale

The term ‘interpretive’ in the discussion of sociological methods is the most common translation of the German word ‘verstehen,’ but the German term is also translated as ‘understanding’. There are many discussions and disputes over the translation of words between languages. What can be said about the meaning of interpretive method in sociology can be seen in discussions and disputes within the English language over what such a term should be understood to mean. From the outset, and in line with the key German authors whose works frame discussions of interpretive method, verstehen should not be understood as empathy, the purely subjective experience of others. As such, verstehen requires the ability to get not inside the skin of ...

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