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Positivism and Interpretivism in Social Research

7. Research Choices and Mixed Methods

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About this Lecture


In this lecture, we summarise the various approaches to social theory we have explored in this course, and think about if there is any common ground between them, focusing in particular on: (i) the three main frameworks that have been introduced in this course: hermeneutics, critical theory, and philosophical realism; (ii) the common ground between these approaches: the rejection of strong notions of verification, testability, etc. and an understanding that it is not always possible (or desirable) to have a strongly factual, 'scientific' account of the social world; (iii) another approach that we haven't discussed so far: rational action theory; (iv) the question of whether the social sciences are more of a science or an art; (v) the complementarily between different approaches towards social research – there is no single, 'correct' approach; and (vi) the usefulness of the German term Wissenschaft ('systematic study'), which is perhaps a more fruitful way of thinking about the kind of intellectual activity that takes place within the arts, social sciences and 'hard' sciences.


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 - Research Choices and Mixed Methods [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

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

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