Sociology Index

VERSTEHEN

Verstehen literally means understanding or comprehension. Verstehen is the use of empathy in the sociological or historical understanding of human action and behavior. Verstehen refers to understanding the meaning of action from the actor's point of view. Verstehen is entering into the shoes of the other. Verstehen is associated with the writings of Max Weber. Verstehende means comprehend employing Verstehen. Verstehen is now seen as a concept and a method central to a rejection of positivistic social science or Positive School, though Max Weber appeared to think that the two could be united. Verstehen requires treating the actor as a subject, rather than an object of your observations. Verstehen also implies that unlike objects in the natural world human actors are not simply the product of the pulls and pushes of external forces.

In 'Verstehen: The Uses of Understanding in the Social Sciences' Michael Martin offers a critical appraisal of verstehen as a method of verification and discovery as well as a necessary condition for understanding. The term verstehen, literally, understanding, or comprehension, came to be associated with the view that social phenomena must be understood from the point of view of the social actor. Advocates of this approach were opposed by positivists who stressed the unity of method between the social and natural sciences and an external, experimental, and quantitative knowledge. Martin defines the limitations of the classical and recent verstehen positions and proposes a methodological pluralism in which verstehen is justified pragmatically in terms of the purposes and contexts of inquiry. This volume is the only comprehensive and sustained critique of verstehen theory currently available. It will be of interest to sociologists, philosophers, political scientists, and anthropologists.

Ideal-Types and Verstehen

Weber was influenced by philosophers such as Immanuel Kant. Unlike Kant and Dithey, Weber thought that abstract concepts could be used to explain social events. He argued for an interpretive theory in sociology that uses concepts to understand the meaning people attach to their actions. According to him, social scientists could use concepts called ideal-types, a sort of measuring stick that captures the most rational and most essential components of any social thing. Ideal-types can be based on historical events, like the spirit of capitalism. Ideal-types also allow for the use of verstehen, or the interpretive understanding of the subjective motivations individuals attach to their actions. In his essay, “Basic Sociological Terms,” Weber uses verstehen to understand different types of social action.

Criminological verstehen: Inside the immediacy of crime
Jeff Ferrell, Justice Quarterly, Volume 14, 1997 - Issue 1. Drawing on Weber's notion of verstehen, this essay proposes one such situated methodology: criminological verstehen. It concludes by suggesting broader applications of this methodology in present and future criminal and criminal justice research situations. Contemporary reevaluations of methodology, and specifically the role of the researcher in the research process, provide a framework for exploring anew the implications of such field research.

Max Weber, Interpretive Sociology, and the Sense of Historical Science: a Positivistic Conception of Verstehen - Thomas Burger, The Sociological Quarterly, Volume 18 - March 1977.
Weber's advocacy of understanding and an interpretive theory is shown to be a consequence of the anthropological premises of his theory of concept formation in history. Men are interested in understandable historical developments because of their practical involvement in society, and they rely on historical knowledge in their efforts to make sense out of the present. In opposition to the mainstream of the Verstehen tradition, he argues against valuing historical sociology and social science.

Dilthey, Empathy and Verstehen A Contemporary Reappraisal 
Austin Harrington, UNIVERSITY OF LEEDS, UK.
Wilhelm Dilthey's late nineteenth-century doctrine of 're-experiencing' the thoughts and feelings of the actors whose lives the social scientist seeks to understand has been criticized by several commentators as entailing a naive empathy view of understanding in which social scientists are said to transport themselves into other cultural contexts in a wholly uncritical, unreflective manner.

The Operation Called VERSTEHEN - Tomasi, Timothy J. 
Descriptors: Cognitive Processes; Educational Objectives; Higher Education; Intellectual Development; Learning Processes; Teaching Methods. Abstract: Verstehen, the understanding of human behavior, can be of value to teacher and student alike.