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November 28, 2014 / C H Thompson


Interpretivists argue because an individual’s behaviour is influenced by the interpretations and meanings they individually give to social situations you can’t predict human behaviour and on this basis positivist research methods are full of short-comings.

Instead interpretivists argue it is the job of the sociologist to use research methods which allow them to understandInterview the meanings and motivations of individual behaviour; through a process known as verstehen (this page explains in very simple terms why).

While positivists collect statistical data from their research methods interpretivists seek to understand the motivations of people in society. For example, if we go back to social-class, interpretivists would want to investigate whether or not social-class is seen to determine the decisions people make by talking to them. Because of this interpretivists collect qualitative data (positivists collect quantitative data) through research methods like:

  • participant observations (you can sometimes use non-participant observations
  • informal (open) interviews
  • personal accounts like diaries; Facebook entries and letter
  • open -ended questionnaires

Because of the depth these methods tend to delve into, qualitative researchers tend to conduct small-scale studies on small numbers of people. This approach allows the researcher to spend time getting ‘to know’ the group being studied and responding to what they uncover.

This approach is the opposite to positivist methods, as they impose a structure or framework on the study about what the sociologists views as being important. In contrast interpretivists listen to what the respondent has to say and ‘goes with the flow’ of the information being divulged which means they’re less reliable.


One Comment

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  1. ourlittleband / Nov 29 2014 3:57 pm

    Reblogged this on What's On My Mind But Not On Your Time and commented:
    Since I learned about the principles of care, while working as a support worker, I’ve been speculating that bias may be inevitable, subconscious, and unavoidable? I like this definition of the interpretivist perspective as it appears to promote collaboration. Scientific experiments shouldn’t be rolled out as the be and all for an explanation. Experimental bias is one good reason to question validity. It may be found from factors such as the design, the ecological or the ethno-restrictive, and the reductionist quantities within the experiment.

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