WHAT IS INTERPRETIVE RESEARCH?
Interpretive methodologies position the meaning-making practices of human actors at the center of scientific explanation. Called qualitative research in some disciplines, it is conducted from an experience-near perspective in that the researcher does not start with concepts determined a priori but rather seeks to allow these to emerge from encounters in "the field" (which we define here broadly, to encompass both traditional in-country fieldwork, domestic and overseas, and textual-archival research).
Interpretive research focuses on analytically disclosing those meaning-making practices, while showing how those practices configure to generate observable outcomes.
Interpretive research methodologies and methods are not new but are today in a minority position in political science disciplinary training and mainstream journals. Over the last decade, there has been increasing interest in, and recognition and support of, "qualitative" methods in the social sciences broadly and in the discipline of political science, in particular. At the same time, "interpretive" methodologies and methods have also been drawing greater attention. Whereas the philosophical grounding of interpretive research has long been clear, empirical issues of research design, research practice, and appropriate assessment have recently been developed in ways that can assist doctoral students and junior scholars to make their research more rigorous and to communicate their findings more effectively.
Although there is some overlap between qualitative and interpretive research practices (notably, in their use of word-based data), interpretive research is distinctive in its approach to research design, concept formation, data analysis, and standards of assessment (Bevir and Kedar 2008, Yanow and Schwartz-Shea, 2006; see also Klotz and Lynch 2007, Prasad 2005). So, as Bevir and Kedar (2008) discuss, interpretive methodologies encompass an experience-near orientation that sees human action as meaningful and historically contingent. In this view, social science and the subjects it studies are located within particular linguistic, historical, and values standpoints. This contrasts strongly with the drive to identify generalizable laws independent of cultural-historical specificity.
Bevir, Mark and Kedar, Asaf. 2008. Concept formation in political science: An anti-naturalist critique of qualitative methodology. Perspectives on Politics 6 (3): 503-17.
Klotz, Audie and Lynch, Cecelia. 2007. Strategies for research in constructivist international relations. Armonk, NY: M E Sharpe.
Prasad, Pushkala. 2005. Crafting qualitative research: Working in the postpositivist tradition. Armonk, NY: M E Sharpe.
Yanow, Dvora and Schwartz-Shea, Peregrine, eds. 2006. Interpretation and method: Empirical research methods and the interpretive turn. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe.
This workshop is made possible through the generous support of the National Science Foundation and the University of Utah (US), University of Toronto (Canada), and Vrije Universteit (Amsterdam, The Netherlands).