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the German word for ‘understanding’, which, when used in a sociological context in English-speaking sociology, usually refers to MEANINGFUL UNDERSTANDING, the procedure in which both social actors and sociologists ‘interpret’ and gain access to the meanings of others.

The German term is especially associated with the work of Max WEBER, who stated as ‘the specific task of the sciences of action,…the interpretation of action in terms of its subjective meaning’ (Weber, 1922), distinguishing the social sciences from the natural sciences by the presence of such an orientation.

A confusion exists in the literature -illustrating the problems that can arise in any understanding of meanings! – as to whether in Weber's use Verstehen refers only to a doubtful psychologistic and ‘introspective’, ‘empathic’ understanding, in which the sociologist merely ‘imagines’ herself or himself in the place of a person or group, or whether – something capable of far more ‘objective’ evaluation – actors’ 'subjective meanings’ can be ‘read off from the existence of an explicit ‘language’ of social meanings which can be objectively demonstrated.

In fact, Weber's usage would appear to have involved elements of both of these possibilities, but in the former case he endeavoured to found any ‘existential’ psychological assumptions involved in ‘empirical regularities of experience’. Nevertheless, there remain some critics who, wrongly, see Weber's, and any, use of Verstehen as only involving a doubtful introspective psychology (e.g. Abel, 1977). While others (e.g. WINCH, 1958, or Macintyre, 1962) argue that it would have been better if Weber had confined his use of Verstehen to meaningful understanding in the second sense, and not sought to merge meaningful understanding and ‘causal explanation’.

What Weber meant by ‘causal explanation’ in the context of actors’ meanings is another issue: either these could refer:

  1. to meanings in themselves functioning as ‘causes’ (a usage to which some philosophers object; compare WINCH); or
  2. Verstehen is a way of generating wider causal hypotheses based on ‘universals’ which, at least to some degree, must themselves in turn be ‘verified’ against experience. Again Weber does seem to have made reference to ‘causes’ in both of these senses. It is in this context that Weber's sociology may be seen as constituting a ‘half-way house’ between a purely positivistic sociology with no place for actors’ meanings, and a purely ‘interpretative sociology’with no place for causal analysis. In all of this Weber's view was that sociology should go as far as is appropriate in making sociology a science, and no further. Thus he insisted that actors’ meanings and choices could never be reduced to merely physical or mechanical causation. vertical division of labour see SEXUAL DIVISION OF LABOUR.
References in periodicals archive ?
In short, interpretive sociology in Canada developed alongside the mainstream quantitative and comparative-historical sociology of the day from the start, but is rarely, if ever, discussed in accounts of the discipline at the time (e.
In this sense, this is exemplary interpretive sociology with heightened awareness of the entrenched nature of Orientalism.
In the Checkland's latest books, Learning for Action, it indicates that the emergence of SST and SSM bring a shift of social theory which moves from functionalism to interpretive sociology (Checkland and Poulter, 2006).
During this period, the Canadianization struggle came to a head and, in a set of related struggles, Marxism, feminism, interpretive sociology, and the new political economy carved out spaces for themselves in the university despite resistance from mainstream sociology and various political and intellectual elites (Drache and Clement 1985; Marchak 1985; Fox 1989; Armstrong and Armstrong 1992; Eichler 1992; Clement 1998).
In this volume of interpretive sociology, the editors (professors of sociology at Guru Nanak Dev U.
Sociology, Religion and Grace is, the author informs us, a work of interpretive sociology in the tradition of Weber and Durkheim, but the result is quite unlike what we might expect.
1) From the sixties on, framed by the concerns that influenced interpretations of Weber on bureaucracy in the early-1960s, an interpretive sociology was clearly in decline.
Chapter 1, "Pragmatism in American Sociology," nicely traces symbolic interactionism, pragmatism's self-conscious legacy in sociology, from its origins in Mead, Dewey, and Chicago sociology, through more recent work in interpretive sociology.
Rushforth and Upham arrive at these and other assertions by way of a stimulating and well-explicated romp through many social scientific methodologies, paradigms, and concepts: culture, human agency, society and social structure, endogenous and exogenous variables, structural-functionalism, acculturation theory, world systems theory, Marxist anthropology, cultural ecology, and interpretive sociology.
Interpretive sociology typically has less to do with statistics and uses cultural meaning and subjective perception as the focus of investigation.
It argues that while class analysis is more fragmented today than it was during the early years of the Review, it is generally more attuned to conceptual and theoretical issues and to its own analytical limitations, and consequently remains a fruitful source of both explanatory and interpretive sociology.
In it these are classified as belonging to one of the four paradigms: Functionalist sociology, Interpretive sociology, Radical structuralism and Radical Humanism.

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