Interpretive theory is a general
category of theory including symbolic interactionism,
phenomenology and social constructionism.
Interpretive theory is typically
contrasted with structural theories which claim to remove the subjectivity of the actor
and the researcher and assume that human behavior can best be understood as determined by
the pushes and pulls of structural forces.
Interpretive theory is more
accepting of free will and sees human behavior as the outcome of the subjective
interpretation of the environment.
Structural theory focuses on the
situation in which people act while interpretive theory focuses on the actor's definition
of the situation in which they act. Interpretive theory seeks reciprocal inter-subjective
understanding of subjects.
Max Weber (1864-1920)
consolidated and developed a rich mass of interpretive theory of religion in his volumes
on Judaism, Christianity, the Protestant Ethic, Confucianism, Hinduism and Islam.
Interpretive research is
fundamentally concerned with meaning and it seeks to understand social members' definition
of a situation - Schwandt.
Interpretive theory involves
building a second order theory or theory of members' theories - Schutz
Modern Social Theory: Selected Interpretive Readings Book by Murray E G Smith and Murray
E.G. Smith - Collection of essays illuminates the course of development of modern
social thought, from the Enlightenment to the 1920s. Essays focus on the most prominent
social theroists, including Smith, Durkheim, Marx, Engels and Weber. Each essay describes
the main contributions of the theorist as well as the political and economic context in
which he worked.
An Introduction to Interpretive Theory Hermeneutics: An Introduction to Interpretive Theory by Stanley E. Porter and Jason C.
Robinson (Nov 15, 2011)
The Judiciary Is a They,
Not an It: Two Fallacies of Interpretive Theory
ADRIAN VERMEULE, Harvard University - Harvard Law School
In the theory of constitutional and statutory interpretation, dynamic arguments point to
the beneficial effects on legislative behavior that will result if "judges" or
"courts" adopt a particular approach to interpretation. In this paper I claim
that such arguments are conceptually confused, and thus do not count as valid arguments at
all. Dynamic arguments commit the fundamental mistake of overlooking the collective
character of judicial institutions - of overlooking that the judiciary, like Congress, is
a "they," not an "it." That mistake produces the critical, and
erroneous, assumption that coordinated judicial adoption of some particular approach to
legal interpretation is both feasible and desirable.
In the language of moral philosophy, dynamic theorists have overlooked essential questions
of non-ideal theory, which asks what obligations people have when others will not or
cannot comply with their (identical) obligations. In the language of economics and consequentialist political theory, the interpretive
theorist has overlooked essential questions of the second-best, which arise when a general
or collective equilibrium cannot be attained. It is an irony of interpretive theory that
so much emphasis has been given to exploring the consequences of the legislature's
collective character, while inadequate attention has been paid to the same problem in
judicial institutions. - Abstract.
ROBERT GEPHART, University of Alberta
Interpretivist research is fundamentally concerned with meaning and it seeks to understand
social members' definition of a situation (Schwandt, 1994: 118). Interpretive theory
involves building a second order theory or theory of members' theories (Schutz, 1973) in
contrast to positivism which is concerned with objective reality and meanings thought to
be independent of people. Interpretivists assume that knowledge and meaning are acts of
interpretation hence there is no objective knowledge which is independent of thinking,
reasoning humans. Interpretivism often addresses essential features of shared meaning and
understanding whereas constructivism extends this concern with knowledge as produced and
interpreted to an anti-essentialist level. Constructionists argue that knowledge and truth
are the result of perspective (Schwandt, 1994: 125) hence all truths are relative to some
meaning context or perspective.
There are many interpretivist and constructionist genres but central to all of these has
been a concern with subjective meanings, how individuals or members of society apprehend,
understand and make sense of social events and settings and how this sensemaking produces
features of the very settings to which sensemaking is responsive (the concern for reflexivity). Constructionists have also been particularly
concerned with the interplay of subjective, objective and intersubjective knowledge. Intersubjectivity is the process of knowing others' minds
and the question of intersubjectivity, how we know others minds, has been a longstanding
challenge (scandal!) in philosophy (Schutz, 1973). Intersubjectivity occurs through
language, social interaction, and written texts. A
key form of interpretive research is social
constructionism (Berger and Luckmann, 1967; Knorr-Cetina, 1981; Gephart, 1978) which
seeks to understand the social construction dialectic
involving objective, intersubjective and subjective
knowledge. This research investigates how the objective
features of society (organizations, social classes,
technology and scientific facts) emerge from, depend on, and are constituted by subjective
meanings of individuals and intersubjective processes such as discourses or discussions in
groups (c.f. Gephart, 1993, 1997). In a sense, interpretivist constructivism
"brackets" objective reality and seeks to show how variations in human meanings
and sensemaking generate and reflect differences in reified or objective realities.
Your Professional Pratice: Doing Interpretive Research (Doing Qualitative Research in
Educational Settings) Book by Hilary A. Radnor
* What is interpretive research?
* How do you approach doing interpretive research?
* How do you do interpretive research well?
This book is for the professional educator who wants to make use of good interpretive
research practice to help them do their job better. A view on the nature of interpretation
within the qualitative approach is presented which leads on to a model of doing
qualitative research the interpretive way that is both credible and trustworthy. The book
is designed to demystify the interpretive/qualitative research process for educators doing
a further degree at masters or doctoral level. Examples in the book from doctoral students
who are teachers, lecturers, advisers and education managers, cover the area of arts
education, TEFL, home-school relations and teacher education and development. The book
will be of particular interest to educators doing research who want to raise their
awareness of the perceptions and needs of others with whom and for whom they are
responsible and who want to improve their understanding of the process and the content of
About the Author
As an educational researcher, Hilary Radnor has specialised in investigating the impact
that centrally imposed policy initiatives in education have had on the professional
working practices of teachers, concentrating on understanding the impact from the
teachers' perspectives. Supervising many practising teachers doing advanced degrees, she
developed a teaching module in interpretive research. This book is the outcome of ten
years teaching the topic.
Cultural analysis is intrinsically incomplete. And,
worse than that, the more deeply it goes the less complete it is
There are a number
of ways of escaping thisturning culture into folklore and collecting it, turning it
into traits and counting it, turning it into institutions and classifying it, turning it
into structures and toying with it. But they are escapes. The fact is that to commit
oneself to a semiotic concept of culture and an interpretive approach to the study of it
is to commit oneself to a view of ethnographic assertion as
contestable. Anthropology, or at least interpretive anthropology, is a science whose
progress is marked less by a perfection of the consensus than by a refinement of debate.
What gets better is the precision with which we vex each other. - Clifford Geertz,
Description: Toward and Interpretive Theory of Culture, The Interpretation of
Culture, (NY: Basic Books, 1973)
Toward an Interpretive Theory of Legal Ethics
Rakesh K. Anand, Syracuse University College of Law, Rutgers Law Review, Vol. 58, p. 653,
This Article is organized around a simple question: Where's the law in legal ethics? The
most powerful contemporary thinking about lawyer behavior tells us that there is nothing
uniquely "legal" about a lawyer's professional responsibility and that his or
her obligations are simply the common moral obligations of us all, and nothing more. In
the abstract, this position may seem shocking enough. But, the real astonishment comes
when one reflects on the prescriptions for lawyer conduct that follow from this line of
thought. For example, imagine a plaintiff who has a clearly "just" claim but for
which the statute of limitations has run. In this circumstance, the prominent voices in
legal ethical theory tell us that it is professionally unethical for the defense lawyer to
assert the affirmative defense on behalf of his or her client (because common morality
requires an individual to act in a manner consistent with the production of
This Article offers the definitive response to this extant view. Appealing to the insights
of philosophical-anthropology, as well as more generally of the liberal arts, this Article
explains that at least in America, law is a symbolic form of political life, i.e., a form
of cultural activity that generates its own complete world of meaning, while also
reminding the reader that political life and moral life are incommensurable spheres of
human experience. Acknowledging these facts, it follows that a "lawyer" is, by
definition, an individual whose behavior supports the symbolic form of law and, therefore,
he or she must act in a manner consistent with this cultural activity and the set of
beliefs upon which it is grounded (e.g. that "the People" rule). Because of this
existential condition, a lawyer's professional responsibility will not always be
consistent with the demands of common morality - for example, requiring him or her to
assert the statute of limitations to frustrate a plaintiff's "just" claim.