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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.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
References in classic literature ?
'Wir sind gewohnt das die Menschen verhoehnen was sie nicht verstehen.' Goethe is always pithy."
Wenn haber man kann nicht meinem Rede Verstehen, so werde ich ihm sp:ater dasselbe :ubersetz, wenn er solche Dienst verlangen wollen haben werden sollen sein h:atte.
This de-contextualization tends to put all efforts towards comparison and verstehen under taboo and offers a comforting containment for the evil--an intellectual imposition and a pedagogical dead-end street alike.
He then examines George's monotonous style of reading his poems aloud in the context of theories of declamation current around 1900, concluding that his voice functioned as an 'acoustic mask' , effecting a 'kalkulierte Dissoziation von Horen and Verstehen' (p.
In particular, the position I sketch takes no position on whether there is a way of knowing things, usually described by the term Verstehen or as "apprehending" or "grasping" truth, independent of knowledge gained by the application of general laws--what I have been calling propositions--to facts.
Max Weber, for instance, offers Verstehen, but avoids any analyses above the individual.
Ich denke, dass die Wendung der vocis immutatio sich als metanarrative Aussage im Sinne eines 'Wandels des Tones' auf den storenden Ubergang von der volltonenden Versprechung rhetorisch durchgestalteter Unterhaltung zu einer demutigen Bitte um Nachsicht verstehen lasst.
In my view, following Wilhelm Dilthey, configuring (Verstehen) (10) is the cognitive process that enables us to understand null experiences.