Interpretive social science: An overview

Frank C. Richardson, Blaine J. Fowers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Mainstream social sciences in the 20th century have always been highly fragmented, with considerable isolation among disciplines such as psychology, sociology, and political science and many disconnected islands of theory and research pursued within each field. Today, even more fundamental epistemological questions about the nature of human action or social life and the proper way to explain or understand it are hotly debated and remain quite unresolved. This article argues that it may be helpful broadly to classify diverse approaches to social or human science as (a) explanatory, (b) descriptivist, (c) critical, (d) postmodern/social constructionist, and (e) hermeneutic or interpretive approaches to such inquiry. Every such typology is shaped by its own epistemological ideals and value commitments. The authors try to make their commitments explicit and explain some of the ways they feel that an interpretive social science or hermeneutic viewpoint offers a relatively coherent view of social inquiry that assists them in incorporating the virtues and avoiding the limitations of other approaches.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)465-495
Number of pages31
JournalAmerican Behavioral Scientist
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 1998
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Cultural Studies
  • Education
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Social Sciences(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Interpretive social science: An overview'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this