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Posted on May 18, 2015 by Karl Thompson — 1 Comment

Positivism and Interpretivism in Social


Research

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Positivism and Interpretivism are the two basic approaches to research methods in Sociology. Positivist
prefer scientific quantitative methods, while Interpretivists prefer humanistic qualitative methods. This
post provides a very brief overview of the two.

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Positivism
Positivists prefer quantitative methods such as social surveys, structured questionnaires and
o icial statistics because these have good reliability and representativeness.
Positivists see society as shaping the individual and believe that ‘social facts’ shape individual
action.
The positivist tradition stresses the importance of doing quantitative research such as large scale
surveys in order to get an overview of society as a whole and to uncover social trends, such as the
relationship between educational achievement and social class. This type of sociology is more
interested in trends and patterns rather than individuals.
Positivists also believe that sociology can and should use the same methods and approaches to
study the social world that “natural” sciences such as biology and physics use to investigate the
physical world. By adopting “scientific” techniques sociologists should be able, eventually, to
uncover the laws that govern societies just as scientists have discovered the laws that govern the
physical world.
In positivist research, sociologists tend to look for relationships, or ‘correlations’ between two or
more variables. This is known as the comparative method,
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Interpretivism
An Interpretivist approach to social research would be much more qualitative, using methods
such as unstructured interviews or participant observation
Interpretivists, or anti-positivists argue that individuals are not just puppets who react to
external social forces as Positivists believe.
According to Interpretivists individuals are intricate and complex and di erent people experience
and understand the same ‘objective reality’ in very di erent ways and have their own, o en very
di erent, reasons for acting in the world, thus scientific methods are not appropriate.
Intepretivist research methods derive from ‘social action theory‘
Intereptivists actually criticise ‘scientific sociology’ (Positivism) because many of the statistics it
relies on are themselves socially constructed.
Interpretivists argue that in order to understand human action we need to achieve ‘Verstehen‘, or
empathetic understanding – we need to see the world through the eyes of the actors doing the
acting.

Positivism and Interpretivism Summary Grid 

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Theory and Methods A Level Sociology Revision Bundle


If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my Theory and
Methods Revision Bundle – specifically designed to get students
through the theory and methods sections of  A level sociology papers
1 and 3.

Contents include:

74 pages of revision notes


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‘How to write methods in context essays’.

Related Posts 

Links to more detailed posts on Positivism and Social Action Theory are embedded in the text above.
Other posts you might like include:

Positivism in Social Research 

Max Weber’s Social Action Theory

The Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life, A Summary

Links to all of my research methods posts can be found at my main research methods page.

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Categories: positivism, Social Theory (A2)


Tags: anti-positivism, interpretivism, positivism, qualitative, quantitative, research, Sociology

 Is Childhood Disappearing? Positivism, Sociology and Social Research 

1 thought on “Positivism and Interpretivism in Social


Research”

lahiru
January 3, 2017

It’s better to explain with example,but this explanation is very good.thnks…

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