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December 18, 2014 / C H Thompson

Quick view to understanding interpretivism


Interpretivism (qualitative methods)

The core principles of interpretivism are:

  • interpretivists are anti-positivist in principle as they are sceptical about sociology’s scientific status
  • they reject the view human behaviour is predictable in the same way the natural world is seen to be
  • unlike molecules human beings are conscious entities and act with purpose
  • intrepretivists argue human behaviour is not the result of external forces (social facts) instead sociologists need to understand the meaning and motivations behind individual action (verstehen)
  • interpretivists use qualitative methods

Intrepretivists prefer small scale research methods which get to understand (verstehen) the feelings and experiences of individuals as opposed to the large scale research undertaken by positivists.

Weber’s position is sociology is a science which attempts to interpret how people behave (social action) in order to understand an individual’s motivations for their actions.

For interpretivists it is the sociologist’s interpretation of these actions which is key to gaining verstehen (understanding) which is the opposite to the positivists desire to discover social forces (social facts) acting on individuals and so affecting their behaviour.

Their methods include:

Method                                        Why it’s a preferred method

unstructured interviews           the flexibility of the method & ability to build a rapport

participant observation            enables researcher to observe behaviour in natural setting & gain empathy

non-participant observation    enables researcher to observe behaviour in natural setting & gain empathy

(observations can be overt or covert)

Follow this link for more detailed information on interpretivist methods.


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