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The Foundations of Social


Michael Crotty
Interpretivism Part I
The Foundations of Social
 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.
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 So we want to begin thinking about
interpretivism as a theoretical
perspective in contradistinction to
 The interpretive approach looks for
culturally derived and historically
situated interpetations of the social
life world.
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 Max Weber (pronounced Vay-ber)
concerned with…Verstehen in the social
 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
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 Wilhelm Windelband & Heinrich
 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,
 In the case of human affairs, we are
concerned with the individual case,
 Natural science seeks the nomothetic
 Social science seeks the idiographic
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 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
 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
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 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.
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 For Weber, verstehen undergirds the
purpose behind explanation. But still, in
any scientific study of society, verstehen
has to be substantiated by empirical
 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
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 Interpetivism moved out of
empiricism and into hermeneutics,
phenomenology, and symbolic
 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
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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)
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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
 Seeking the meaning of experience
becomes an exploration of culture
The Foundations of Social
 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
The Foundations of Social
 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
 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)
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 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
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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.
The Foundations of Social
 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.
The Foundations of Social
 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
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 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
 Suspend assumptions
 Be suspicious of culture
 Break free!
 Open your mind!
 Culture is liberating, yes, but it is
also limiting.
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 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
The Foundations of Social
 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
The Foundations of Social
 How does phenomenology work as a research
 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