Sociology Index


The term 'documentary method of interpretation' was used by Karl Mannheim and Alfred Schutz, but its current meaning derives from Harold Garfinkel, the founder of ethnomethodology. Harold Garfinkel asserts that documentary method is a method which lay persons and sociologists alike use in commonsense reasoning about the world.

Documentary method of interpretation consists of treating an actual appearance as the document of a presupposed underlying pattern. The child's choice of toys, like for example, a boy choosing a truck or a girl choosing a doll, is seen as an indication of an underlying pattern of biological preferences, or for the sociologists, of gender socialization.

People employ a documentary method of interpretation, by treating actual appearances as the document of, as pointing to, as standing on behalf of a presupposed underlying pattern’ and tap into this stream of agency through experimental interactivity. This seeming paradox is quite familiar to hermeneuticians who understand this phenomenon as a version of the hemeneutic circle. This phenomenon is also subject to analysis from the phenomenological theory of perception.

Documentary method of interpretation. The Documentary Method is the method of understanding utilized by everyone engaged in trying to make sense of their social world. These "documents" serve to constitute the underlying pattern, but are themselves interpreted on the basis of what is already known about that underlying pattern.

The Interpretation of Pictures and the Documentary Method - Ralf Bohnsack
The documentary method, based on Karl MANNHEIM's Sociology of Knowledge, opens up methodical access to pictures. Methodologies from art history can thus become relevant for empirical research in social sciences. Thus verbal contextual and pre-knowledge can be controlled methodically in the documentary interpretation of pictures.

Ideology and Reality Work. On the Analysis of Power and Dominance on Ethnomethodological Grounds
The general aim is to attempt to demonstrate how ethnomethodologically inspired analyses can be combined with more traditional analyses of "ideology", "traditional" in the sense of analyses which take the natural attitude as unproblematically given. This work is carried out in normal, everyday situations with the natural attitude as unproblematically given and with the help of the "documentary method of interpretation". Of interest is thus the question of the ideological potential of the documentary method of interpretation when it is used with the natural attitude as unproblematically given.

Documentary Interpretation of Narrative Interviews - Arnd-Michael Nohl
The Narrative Interview (developed by Fritz Schuetze) and the Documentary Method of Interpretation (by Ralf Bohnsack) are two of the major methods of qualitative-empirical research on education. In this contribution I discuss why and how Narrative Interviews can be interpreted with the Documentary Method. While the Documentary Interpretation of Narrative Interviews draws back on elements of the Narration-Structure Analysis, it emphasizes comparative analysis and development of types.

Working with images in daily life and police practice: an assessment of the documentary tradition - Mike Ball, Staffordshire University, Qualitative Research, Vol. 5, No. 4, (2005)
There is a growing body of literature within the humanities and social sciences that is directly critical of the documentary tradition’s treatment and use of still and moving images as realistic data. The documentary tradition claims that it is possible to visually document social scenes with cameras. As instruments, cameras are open to a variety of uses ranging from the scientific to the artistic in orientation. Following Garfinkel, this article suggests that the documentary method of sense making is employed in numerous practical situations. This article commences with an overview of the documentary tradition and then offers a brief case study of certain of these principles in operation within the practical work of the police and road users on public highways. Within police work that involves the regulation and management of traffic flows, stored images of vehicles can serve as documentary evidence of traffic violations.