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Positivism and Interpretivism in Social Research

2. Positivism and its Critics

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About this Lecture


In this lecture, we explore the development of positivism after its establishment as a philosophy of science, as well as some of its criticisms, focusing in particular on: (i) the shift in the 1970s away from positivism and functionalism, and the return of social theory, and the theories of Marx, Weber, Durkheim and Simmel; (ii) the work of Rom Harré and and Roy Bhaskar, and the criticism of positivism in the area of the philosophy of science; (iii) the work of Karl Popper, and his categorisation of theories such as Marxism as 'pseudosciences' on the grounds they were untestable; and (iv) the strength of positivism in different disciplines: political science, economics and sociology.


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 - Positivism and its Critics [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

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

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