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Chapter Five: Interpretivism

The Way of Hermeneutics

Foundations of Social Research
Michael Crotty
The Foundations of Social
 Historically,
Hermeneutics comes from the
science of biblical interpretation (17th
 How does one interpret the meaning of a
holy text?
 The actual explanation of what a biblical
text means is exegesis
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 Hermeneutics: exegesis
 Grammar: language
 Logic: reasoning
 Hermeneutics expanded to texts beyond
the bible, then to unwritten sources i.e.,
human practices, human events, human
situations in an attempt to “read” these in
ways that bring understanding.
The Foundations of Social
 Hermeneutics reinforces notion that we
are essentially languaged beings.
 Language is pivotal to and shapes the
situations in which we find ourselves
enmeshed, the events which befall us, the
practices we carry out and, in and through
all of this, the understandings we are able
to reach.
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 In the old view of language, first came the
“given reality,” then came perception, then
came language.
 In the linguistic turn, language and the
way we “speak” shape what things we see
and how we see them and it is those
things shaped for us by language that
constitute reality for us.
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 Ricouer
 The Symbol gives rise to thought
 The basic premise of hermeneutics
 Hermeneutics is defined as a method for
deciphering indirect meaning, a reflective
practice of unmasking hidden meanings
beneath apparent ones.
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 In Ancient Greek mythology, Hermes, the divine
messenger used to interpret the messages of
the Gods to the humans. His job was to go from
the familiar to the unfamiliar and back
 Famous hermeneuticists: Heidegger, Dilthey,
Gadamer, Ricouer
 Even though hermeneutics was formalized as a
discipline within the late renaissance, early
enlightenment time of Christianity, it was also
practiced by the Greeks and the Jews.
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 In hermeneutics, texts are seen as alien,
foreign, unfamiliar, distant. But there is
also a paradoxical affinity/connection
between text and reader
 Additionally, hermeneutics is interested in
the implications and applications of texts
 Ex.Legal texts
 Texts are very much situated in communities
and contexts of negotiated meaning
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 Imbedded in hermeneutics is the
endeavor to reach beyond the author’s
meanings and intentions. Indeed the text
cannot be contained by the author alone.
 What are the implications and potential
pitfalls of this endeavor?
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 The Hermeneutic Circle
 In order to understand something, one needs
to begin with ideas, and to use terms that
presuppose a rudimentary understanding of
what one is trying to understand.
Understanding turns out to be a development
of what is already understood, with the more
developed understanding returning to
illuminate and enlarge one’s starting point.
The Foundations of Social
 The Hermeneutic Circle continued…
 Also…
 Understand the whole by looking at its
parts. Understand the parts by looking at
the whole
 Also…
 Start with the familiar, address the
unfamiliar, add it to the familiar
(Gadamer’s bordering frontiers concept)
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 Founders of Modern Hermeneutics that moved it
from the realm of the strictly biblical beyond…
 Friedrich Ast
 Friedrich Schleiermacher
 1) Empathy in the speaker-listener interchange can
be extended to the interpretation of texts
 2) Attention to grammar situating and shaping literary
 3) Psychology-attention to intentions and assumptions
of author
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 Dilthey’s Objective Mind
 Life and History are inextricably
 Philosophy as science of the real, all the
real without truncations
 Human understanding can never exhaust
the real though and there will always be
mysteries and uncertainties.
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 Dilthey continued
 All life is historical life
 All people live within history and nothing,
therefore, is definitive
 Study of the natural realm and the social realm
requires different methods
 Initially, Dilthey felt that through empathy, we
could relive past events.
 Later, he revised his position and accepted that
people’s speech, writings, art and behavior were
a product of their times.
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 Dilthey continued
 The authors historical and social context is the prime
source of understanding.
 The human context is an objectification or externalization
—an ‘expression’ of human consciousness. This is the
‘objective mind.’
 People’s lived experience is incarnate in language,
literature, behavior, art, religion, law—in their every
cultural institution and structure.
 In Dilthey’s hermeneutic circle, the interpreter moves
from the text, to the historical and social circumstances
of the author, and attempts to reconstruct the world in
which the text came to be and to situate the text within it
and back again.
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 Heidegger’s Phenomenological
 Hermeneutics is the revelatory aspect of
phenomenological seeing whereby
existence (its structures) and being come
into view
 Heidegger’s focus is ontology? Review of
chapter one…
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 Heidegger continued
 “Only as phenomenology is ontology possible”
Philosophy is ontology, ontology is
 Dasein: Phenomenology of human being
 Forestructure of being: pre-understanding of
being within all of us.
 Hermeneutics is NOT a body of principles or
rules for interpreting texts, nor is it a
methodology for the human sciences,
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 Heidegger continued
 Heidegger’s hermeneutics starts with a
phenomenological return to our being,
which presents itself to us initially in a
nebulous and undeveloped fashion, and
then seeks to unfold that pre-
understanding, make explicit what is
implicit, and grasp the meaning of being
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 Heidegger continued
 Also describes hermeneutics as a circular
 In our quest for being, we begin with and
from a pre-understanding of being. We
then unfold the rudimentary understanding
and render explicit and thematic what is at
first implicit and unthematised.
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 Heidegger continued
 Explicating the implicit and unthematized leads
us to grasp the structures of being that make
human existence and behavior possible and
then on to a grasping of being itself. Then we
are more enlightened and we begin again (See
figure 5, p. 98).
 For insights on being, look to poetry and history
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 Gadamer’s historical hermeneutics
 People are thoroughly historical, ‘historically
effected’ consciousnesses.
 1) We stand in tradition
 2) All tradition is wedded to language
 The fusion of horizons that takes place in the
understanding is actually the achievement of
 His is a historical understanding that mediates
past and present.
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 If Heidegger finds meaning in poetry, Gadamer
finds it in art.
 He is interested in judging historical art, rather
than contemporary art, why?
 History does not belong to us, it is not a private
enterprise, we belong to it.
 For Gadamer, the starting point is not the self,
but the tradition in which we stand and which we
are meant to serve.
 Consider the cultural tradition as a ‘given.’
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 The Movement of understanding is from
the whole to the part and back to the
whole. Expand the unity of the
understood meaning centrifigully i.e.,
extend the unity of understanding in ever-
widening circles by moving from whole to
part and from part to whole.
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 Applications: Theory and literary criticism
 Continuum that privileges author or text at one
end and reader at the other…
 Eco: beware of overinterpretation, what is that?
 Eco wants to establish dialectical link between
intentio operis (intention of the work) and intentio
lectoris (intention of the reader)
 Eco believes texts have a certain unity and
coherence and there are limits/boundaries to
reasonable interpretations.
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 What is the transactional reading of texts
 How should you think about approaching
texts then, given such an array of opinions
and options?
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 Empathy
 Interactiveapproach
 transactional