Interpretive Sociology: Meaning, Explanation and Overview

Interpretive sociology was developed by Max Weber. Georg Simmel acquaintance of Max Weber was an important developer of interpretive sociology.   It focuses on the meaningful understanding of human behavior which has interrelations and regularities. It studies how human groups actively formulate the reality of their everyday lives through the meaning they give to their actions.

interpretive sociology

It is important to have “evidentness” in interpretations. However, its proof of empirical validity is still not present in itself. Highest measure of evidentness is available in purposively rational behavior through which we can understand behavior that is solely oriented towards means which are (subjectively) considered to be requisite for the attainment of the purposive goal which is (subjectively) unambiguously comprehended.

The boundaries of “understandable” are fluid as we understand purposively rational action as well as the typical course of the effect and their typical consequences for behavior. Certain kind of mystical experience, the behavior of small children or animal are inaccessible to us but does not mean that they lack qualitative specific evidentness that facilitates the understanding. As in these cases, we are only partly able to understand.

So rational interpretation is not the goal here in sociology as “purposively irrational affect” and “emotional state” plays a noticeable role in the human action. But in “purposively rational interpretive approach, one continually encounter purposes that in turn cannot be interpreted as rational “means” for other purposes. The “purposively irrational affect” can be accepted as goal orientation but cannot be subjected to further rational interpretation even though they still are the object of “psychologically” interpretative explanation.

In interpretive sociology, the action is important rather than “inner state” or external behavior.  “Action” means an understandable behavior towards “objects” which have a sense of being specified by some (subjective) meaning that it “has” or that is “meant”. In interpretive sociology the kind of action important is behavior

(1) that, in terms of the subjectively meant meaning of the acting person, is related to behavior of others;

(2) whose course is partially determined by meaning relatedness; and

(3) that can, therefore, on the basis of this (subjectively) meant meaning be intelligibly explained.

Interpretive sociology makes a distinction on the basis of meaning- relatedness. So the effective acts and emotional states such as a feeling of pride, dignity, envy that are compatible to the course of action but indirectly relevant in terms of their subjective meaning are related with the external world, especially to the actions of the other. It focuses solely on inner aspect “from within” which means that it does not enumerate it physical or psychical element. It is important that process and event provide the decisive condition-reason for the action, not just conditions and consequences.

Also Read, Research Methods

It primarily uses participatory research within the daily lives of the participant. Interpretive sociologist use methods such as focus groups, in-depth interviews, and ethnographic observation. Weber pointed out the deficit in positivistic sociology as it was not able to interpret all social phenomenon. It was not able to sufficiently explain why all social phenomenon occurs or what is important to understand about them. So rather than the quantitative method, they used qualitative methods. The data was also collected in qualitative form.

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