The Foundations of Social Research

Michael Crotty Interpretivism Part I

The Foundations of Social Research

Crotty quickly points out that we should revisit our table (p. 5) in chapter one and examine the second column: In this chapter, rather than dealing in the very broad realm of epistemology, we are going to be dealing in a more narrow realm of theoretical perspectives and methodologies, meaning that both theoretically and methodologically, there is more than one epistemological position that can be adopted for interpretivism.

The Foundations of Social Research

So we want to begin thinking about interpretivism as a theoretical perspective in contradistinction to positivism. The interpretive approach looks for culturally derived and historically situated interpetations of the social life world.

The Foundations of Social Research

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Max Weber (pronounced Vay-ber) concerned with…Verstehen in the social sciences… Verstehen (understanding) v. Erklaren (explaining) Wilhelm Dilthey clearly contrasts the two

Natural reality and social reality are in themselves different kinds of reality and their investigation therefore requires different methods

The Foundations of Social Research

Wilhelm Windelband & Heinrich Rickert Reject “real” distinction between natural and social reality, but accept “logical” distinction (one posited by the mind) between the two. This means that when we study one or the other, we have different purposes in mind.

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Windelband & Rickert In the case of nature, science is looking for consistencies, regularities, the ‘law,’ that obtains, nomos In the case of human affairs, we are concerned with the individual case, idios Natural science seeks the nomothetic Social science seeks the idiographic

The Foundations of Social Research

Rickert discusses a generalizing method (in the natural sciences) over and against an individualizing method (in the human and social sciences)

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Back to Weber Rejects Dilthey’s real distinction, accepts logical distinction but does not feel that this necessitates use of different methods in researching the social and natural realms. Both social and natural may be concerned at any given time with both ideographic and nomothetic Scientific method and empiricism should suffice for both nomothetic and ideographic inquiry

The Foundations of Social Research

While Weber expresses the need to focus social inquiry on the meanings and values of acting persons and therefore on their subjective ‘meaning complex of action,’ he defines sociology as a science which attempts the interpretive understanding of social action in order thereby to arrive at a causal explanation of its course and effects.

The Foundations of Social Research

For Weber, verstehen undergirds the purpose behind explanation. But still, in any scientific study of society, verstehen has to be substantiated by empirical evidence. Ideal type: conceptual or mental construct involving imagination. Heuristic device, principal diagnostic tool in amassing empirical data from the social realm and subjecting it to empirical verification.

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Weber’s ideal type: The ‘pure case’ with no admixture of fortuitous and confusing features. It guides the social inquirer in addressing real-life cases and discerning where and to what extent the real deviates from the ideal. It reveals, what is possible and adequate. Methodology only applicable to social behavior that can be described as ‘rational goal-oriented conduct’ and not to ‘rational value-oriented conduct, ‘affectual conduct’ or ‘traditionalist conduct.’

The Foundations of Social Research

Interpetivism moved out of empiricism and into hermeneutics, phenomenology, and symbolic interactionism. In this chapter, we discuss symbolic interactionism and phenomenology. For and against culture respectively.

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Symbolic Interactionism George Herbert Mead Lectures saved by his student Herbert Blumer who summarized his ideas on interaction in the following terms:

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Human beings act toward things on the basis of the meanings that these things have for them; The meaning of such things is derived from, and arises out of, the social interaction that one has with one’s fellows; These meanings are handled in, and modified through, an interpretive process used by the person in dealing with the things he encounters. Keep in mind this is pragmatist philosophy (for review, read the section on pragmatism in chapter two as well as the following section in chapter three)

The Foundations of Social Research

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Pragmatism, called the quintessentially American philosophy Which works out most effectively provides a standard for the determination of truth… Pierce, James, Dewey Experience and culture become interchangeable Seeking the meaning of experience becomes an exploration of culture

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Pragmatism continued The view of culture and society that pragmatism came to adopt is essentially optimistic and progressivist. The pragmatist world is a world to be explored and made the most of, not a world to be subjected to radical criticism Subject to criticism that it isn’t critical

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Symbolic Interactionism “A person” according to Mead “is a personality because he belongs to a community, because he takes over the institutions of that community into his own conduct” The whole (society) is prior to the part (individual). We owe society our very being as conscious and self-conscious entities, for that being arises from a process of symbolic interaction—interaction, by way of significant gestures (significant symbols)

The Foundations of Social Research

In our emergence into personhood, we must be able to take the role of others. Methodologically, this is critical, because it means that when we do research from this perspective we have to take, to the best of our ability, the standpoint of those studies and we must discipline our own viewpoint on the situation and articulate the viewpoint of the actors we are studying clearly and accurately.

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Ethnography From this perspective, reject ethnocentrism, do not criticize the culture, observe it as closely as possible, attempt to take the place of those within the culture, search out the insider perspective

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Dramaturgical approach Erving Goffman (in rhetoric, Burke, performance studies, Turner) Analogy between social life and the theatre

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Game Theory Analyzes social interaction using the everyday concept of the game; rules, players, context Negotiated order theory Societal arrangements and procedures are considered to be constantly reworked by those who live and work within them. Involves negotiation and adjustment

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Labelling Theory The everyday ways in which people categorize people and things. Interactionism directs us to study the labelling process itself. Grounded Theory Ensure that the theory emerging arises from the data and not from some other source. Inductive theory building through carefully constructed set of qualitative research phases and steps.

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Phenomenology Back to the things themselves If we lay aside, as best we can, the prevailing understandings of those phenomena and revisit our immediate experience of them, possibilities for new meaning emerge for us or we witness at least an authentication and enhancement of former meaning.

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As in Chapter two, there are some key assumptions of phenomenology That there are “things/objects” Intentionality with regard to objects is at the heart of the phenomenological enterprise. Recall distinction b/n constructivism/constructionism

The Foundations of Social Research

Phenomenology attempts to invite us (humans) to become constructivists rather than constructionists. We must bracket our institutionalized frames and let the experience of the phenomena speak to us directly. Refers to what we directly experience; that is the objects of our experience before we start thinking about them, interpreting them or attributing any meaning to them. These are the things themselves.

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See p. 80, Phenomenology’s call to action! Suspend assumptions Be suspicious of culture Break free! Open your mind! Culture is liberating, yes, but it is also limiting.

The Foundations of Social Research

In fact, not only is our symbol system limited and limiting, it is also a barrier. It stands for things, but it also comes to stand between us and our immediate experience of objects. Say NO! to the meaning system bequeathed to us, set it aside. Open ourselves up to phenomena rather than explore our everyday meanings as they stand.

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Phenomenology First it is objective. It is in search of objects of experience rather than being content with a description of the experiencing subject. Second, it is critical. It calls into question what it is we take for granted.

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How does phenomenology work as a research method? See p. 83, par. 2 What is Crotty’s critique of phenomenology as research today here? The problem with “taking the place of the other” in modern phenomenology research is that it is not phenomenology, each of us must explore our own experience, not the experience of others, for no one can take that step back to the things themselves on our behalf. Is it possible to “do” phenomenology? How? Is it an independent approach? See p. 85

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