INTERPRETATION & REALISM
Gurminder K Bhambra
16th October, 2013
Positivism
Interpretive critique
Legislators
Interpreters
Monologue
Dialogue
Objectivity
Valid Subjectivities
Observation
Embodiment
Professionalism
Partisanship
Knowledge as Truth
Knowledge as Power
Singular (universal)
Plural
SOCIAL INQUIRY AS INTERPRETATION
Social inquiry is seen to be about understanding
rather than explanation
 A number of different philosophical movements
are associated with the position

German hermeneutics (e.g. Gadamer),
 Phenomenological approaches (e.g. Schutz),
 Ordinary language analysis (associated with
Wittgenstein)


Gadamer deepens interpretative inquiry with his
emphasis upon the historicity of understanding

Focuses on prejudice and the unification of science
and hermeneutics
NATURAL SCIENCE VS. SOCIAL INQUIRY



Science is concerned with generalisations and social
inquiry is concerned with particulars
We do not think our inquiry is complete until we have
understood why something was done
Human beings are constituted in language and
therefore, social inquiry is hermeneutic




i.e. understanding society and social action as text
Issue of prediction
Methodological self-alienation
Idea of human behaviour established in conventions
and rule-following; the human community is the
source of meaning.
GADAMER




‘Anti-foundationalism’
Knowledge as the willingness to learn, not as the will to
power
Opposed to the Enlightenment’s prejudice against
prejudice
He does not believe that Reason can provide its own
foundations.





I think, therefore I am
Thinking, I cannot not be and be for (and by) others
Science is based in a lifeworld that is not a product of
Reason
Rather, what we understand as reason is a product of our
lifeworld
Gadamer is not a critic of the products of science, but of its
self-understanding and the misuse of that selfunderstanding
CRITICISMS OF GADAMER
General conservatism of interpretation
 The model of science and methodology
 The problem of power.
 If actors could have done otherwise, how do we
know when they are doing otherwise (as an
aspect of will) or merely appearing to do so as a
consequence of our failures to understand the
rules they are following?


What is the role of an explanatory undertaking in
the social sciences?
ISSUES OF INTERPRETATION
Limits of hermeneutical understanding?
 Systematically distorted communication and
failures of understanding
 Aim of critical theory is emancipation



But, who is to educate the educators?
Gadamer’s critique of science is naive, but his
critique of positivism as alienation is profound
REALISM AS ALTERNATIVE TO POSITIVISM

Realists argue that critiques of scientific social
inquiry are effective as critiques of positivism
and empiricism



But that they have relativist implications or open up
the way to anti-naturalist approaches
Realism can avoid these consequences.
Issue for realists, is that anti-naturalism in social
inquiry is based upon a false conception of
science
REALISM



Realism is a transcendental project concerned to
establish how the world must be for science as an
activity to be possible
Philosophy is the self-understanding of science
concerned with the conditions for the production
of knowledge.
Distinction between epistemological and
ontological realism
REALISM

Epistemological


“A natural account of the way in which scientific theories succeed each
other - say, the way in which Einstein’s Relativity succeeded Newton’s
Universal Gravitation - is that a partially correct/ partially incorrect
account of a theoretical object - say the gravitational field, or the
metric structure of space-time, or both - is replaced by a better
account of the same object or objects. But if these objects don’t really
exist at all, then it is a miracle that a theory which speaks of
gravitational action at a distance successfully predicts phenomena; it
is a miracle that a theory which speaks of curved space-time
successfully predicts phenomena.” (Putnam 1978: 19)
Ontological


How must the world of physical objects be, for science to be possible?
There are ‘real objects’ outside particular theoretical statements of
them, even though we may never grasp those objects except in fallible
and historically changing constructions
REALIST CRITIQUES OF POSITIVISM

Empiricists, it is argued, are concerned with the
mere association of events.

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Realists make a distinction between the real and
the actual


We want to know how the events are associated; that
is, to identify causal mechanisms that operate as real
forces with the character of necessity
Real effects need not be actualised
Realism as a philosophy of science is unstable
between epistemological realism and more
pragmatic approaches
IMPLICATIONS FOR SOCIAL SCIENCE



Realism is concerned to establish that scientists
act by intervening in the world and manipulating
the operation of its structures to make a
difference in the production of their effects.
This implies that social science is about objects
which are also actors and this must distinguish
social inquiry from natural science.
Realism in the social sciences offers no means of
establishing the reality of social structures
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I & R NTERPRETATION EALISM