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Positivism and Interpretivism in Social Research

5. Ethnomethodology

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About this Lecture


In this lecture, we think about the continuation of the interpretivist tradition from the 1950s onwards, focusing in particular on: (i) the work of Harold Garfinkel (1917-2011) and the concept of ethnomethodology; (ii) Garfinkel's study of how a jury made sense of the (alleged) actions of a defendant, and his use of 'breaching experiments' to explore what happens when the usual processes of social interaction are disrupted; (iii) the influence on Garfinkel of the work of Talcott Parsons (1902-79) and Alfred Schütz (1899-1959), especially Schütz's writings on 'typification'; (iv) the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951), especially the concept of the 'language-game'; (v) the work of Peter Winch (1926-97), including his application of Wittgenstein's work to social theory; and (vi) the work of Peter L. Berger (1929-2017) and Thomas Luckmann (1927-2016), especially the concept of social construction.


In this course, Professor William Outhwaite (Newcastle University) explores the positivist and interpretivist approaches to social research. In the first lecture, we provide an introduction to positivism. In the second lecture, we turn to some of its criticisms. In the third lecture, we explore the emergence of interpretivism, thinking first about its combination with positivism in the work of Max Weber (1864-1920). Next, we look at the polarisation of positivism and interpretivism from about 1920 onwards. In the fifth lecture, we explore ethnomethodology. In the sixth lecture, we look at hermeneutics. In the seventh and final lecture, we consider how the social researcher should negotiate all these different approaches. To what extent are they compatible? Are some 'better' than others?


William Outhwaite is Emeritus Professor is the Department of Geography, Politics and Sociology at Newcastle University. His research focuses on social theory and the philosophy of social science, and some of his recent publications include Social Theory (2015), Europe Since 1989 (2016), Contemporary Europe (2017) and Transregional Europe (2020), an edited book on Brexit (2017) and (co-edited with Stephen P. Turner) The SAGE Handbook of Political Sociology (2018).

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Outhwaite, W. (2021, August 23). Positivism and Interpretivism in Social Research - Ethnomethodology [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Outhwaite, W. "Positivism and Interpretivism in Social Research – Ethnomethodology." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 23 Aug 2021,

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