In social science, antipositivism (also interpretivism and negativism) is a theoretical stance, which proposes that the social realm cannot be studied with the scientific method of investigation applied to Nature, and that investigation of the social realm requires a different epistemology. Fundamental to that antipositivist epistemology is the belief that the concepts and language that researchers use in their researches shape their perceptions of the social world they are investigating, studying, and defining.[1]


Interpretivism (anti-positivism) developed among researchers dissatisfied with post-positivism, the theories of which they considered too general and ill-suited to reflect the nuance and variability found in human interaction. Because the values and theoretical beliefs of researchers cannot fully be removed from their inquiry, interpretivists believe research on human beings by human beings cannot yield objective results. Thus, rather than seeking an objective perspective, interpretivists look for meaning in the subjective experiences of individuals engaging in social interaction. Many interpretivist researchers immerse themselves in the social context they are studying, seeking to understand and formulate theories about a community or group of individuals by observing from the inside. Interpretivism is an inductive practice influenced by philosophical frameworks such as hermeneutics, phenomenology, and symbolic interactionism.[2]


Beginning with Giambattista Vico, in the early eighteenth century, and later with Montesquieu, the study of natural history and human history were separate fields of intellectual enquiry. Natural history is not under human control, whereas human history is a human creation. As such, antipositivism is informed by an epistemological distinction between the natural world and the social realm. The natural world can only be understood by its external characteristics, whereas the social realm can be understood externally and internally, and thus can be known.[3]

In the early nineteenth century, intellectuals, led by the Hegelians, questioned the prospect of empirical social analysis. Karl Marx died before the establishment of formal social science, but nonetheless rejected the sociological positivism of Auguste Comte—despite his attempt to establish an historical materialist science of society.[4]

The enhanced positivism of Émile Durkheim served as foundation of modern academic sociology and social research, yet retained many mechanical elements of its predecessor. Hermeneuticians such as Wilhelm Dilthey theorized in detail on the distinction between natural and social science ('Geisteswissenschaft'), whilst neo-Kantian philosophers such as Heinrich Rickert maintained that the social realm, with its abstract meanings and symbolisms, is inconsistent with scientific methods of analysis. Edmund Husserl, meanwhile, negated positivism through the rubric of phenomenology.[5]

At the turn of the twentieth century, the first wave of German sociologists formally introduced verstehende (interpretive) sociological antipositivism, proposing research should concentrate on human cultural norms, values, symbols, and social processes viewed from a resolutely subjective perspective. As an antipositivist, however, one seeks relationships that are not as "ahistorical, invariant, or generalizable"[6] as those pursued by natural scientists.

The interaction between theory (or constructed concepts) and data is always fundamental in social science and this subjection distinguishes it from physical science. Durkheim himself noted the importance of constructing concepts in the abstract (e.g. "collective consciousness" and "social anomie") in order to form workable categories for experimentation. Both Weber and Georg Simmel pioneered the verstehen (or 'interpretative') approach toward social science; a systematic process in which an outside observer attempts to relate to a particular cultural group, or indigenous people, on their own terms and from their own point of view.

[Sociology is ] ... the science whose object is to interpret the meaning of social action and thereby give a causal explanation of the way in which the action proceeds and the effects which it produces. By 'action' in this definition is meant the human behaviour when and to the extent the agent or agents see it as subjectively meaningful ... the meaning to which we refer may be either (a) the meaning actually intended either by an individual agent on a particular historical occasion or by a number of agents on an approximate average in a given set of cases, or (b) the meaning attributed to the agent or agents, as types, in a pure type constructed in the abstract. In neither case is the 'meaning' thought of as somehow objectively 'correct' or 'true' by some metaphysical criterion. This is the difference between the empirical sciences of action, such as sociology and history, and any kind of a priori discipline, such as jurisprudence, logic, ethics, or aesthetics whose aim is to extract from their subject-matter 'correct' or 'valid' meaning.

— Max Weber, The Nature of Social Action 1922[7]

Through the work of Simmel, in particular, sociology acquired a possible character beyond positivist data-collection or grand, deterministic systems of structural law. Relatively isolated from the sociological academy throughout his lifetime, Simmel presented idiosyncratic analyses of modernity more reminiscent of the phenomenological and existential writers than of Comte or Durkheim, paying particular concern to the forms of, and possibilities for, social individuality.[8] His sociology engaged in a neo-Kantian critique of the limits of human perception.[9]

Antipositivism thus holds there is no methodological unity of the sciences: the three goals of positivism - description, control, and prediction - are incomplete, since they lack any understanding. Science aims at understanding causality so control can be exerted. If this succeeded in sociology, those with knowledge would be able to control the ignorant and this could lead to social engineering.

This perspective has led to controversy over how one can draw the line between subjective and objective research, much less draw an artificial line between environment and human organization (see environmental sociology), and influenced the study of hermeneutics. The base concepts of antipositivism have expanded beyond the scope of social science, in fact, phenomenology has the same basic principles at its core. Simply put, positivists see sociology as a science, while anti-positivists do not.

Frankfurt School

The antipositivist tradition continued in the establishment of critical theory, particularly the work associated with the Frankfurt School of social research. Antipositivism would be further facilitated by rejections of 'scientism'; or science as ideology. Jürgen Habermas argues, in his On the Logic of the Social Sciences (1967), that "the positivist thesis of unified science, which assimilates all the sciences to a natural-scientific model, fails because of the intimate relationship between the social sciences and history, and the fact that they are based on a situation-specific understanding of meaning that can be explicated only hermeneutically ... access to a symbolically prestructured reality cannot be gained by observation alone."[10]

The sociologist Zygmunt Bauman argued that "our innate tendency to express moral concern and identify with the Other's wants is stifled in modernity by positivistic science and dogmatic bureaucracy. If the Other does not 'fit in' to modernity's approved classifications, it is liable to be extinguished."[11]

See also


  1. ^ Macionis, John J.; Gerber, Linda M. (2011). Sociology (7th Canadian ed.). Toronto: Pearson Canada. p. 32. ISBN 978-0-13-700161-3.
  2. ^ Miller, K. (2004). Interpretive Perspectives on Theory Development. In Communication Theories: Perspectives, Processes, and Contexts (pp. 46–59). Boston, Massachusetts: McGraw-Hill.
  3. ^ Hamilton, Peter (1974). Knowledge and Social Structure. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. p. 4. ISBN 978-0710077462.
  4. ^ Jordan, Zbigniew A. (1967). The Evolution of Dialectical Materialism: A Philosophical and Sociological Analysis. New York: Macmillan. pp. 131, 321. [1] [2]
  5. ^ Outhwaite, William, 1988 Habermas: Key Contemporary Thinkers, Polity Press (Second Edition 2009), ISBN 978-0-7456-4328-1 pp. 20–25
  6. ^ Ashley D, Orenstein DM (2005). Sociological theory: Classical statements (6th ed.). Boston: Pearson Education. p. 241.
  7. ^ Weber, Max The Nature of Social Action in Runciman, W.G. 'Weber: Selections in Translation' Cambridge University Press, 1991. p. 7.
  8. ^ Levine, Donald (ed) 'Simmel: On individuality and social forms' Chicago University Press, 1971. p. xix.
  9. ^ Levine, Donald (ed) 'Simmel: On individuality and social forms' Chicago University Press, 1971. p. 6.
  10. ^ Outhwaite, William, 1988 Habermas: Key Contemporary Thinkers, Polity Press (Second Edition 2009), ISBN 978-0-7456-4328-1 p. 22
  11. ^ John Scott. Fifty Key Sociologists: The Contemporary Theorists. Routledge. 2006. p. 19

In social theory and philosophy, antihumanism (or anti-humanism) is a theory that is critical of traditional humanism and traditional ideas about humanity and the human condition. Central to antihumanism is the view that concepts of "human nature", "man", or "humanity" should be rejected as historically relative or metaphysical.

Antinaturalism (sociology)

Antinaturalism is a view in sociology which states that the natural world and the social world are different. It is closely related to antipositivism, and is the opposite of sociological naturalism.

Berlin Circle

The Berlin Circle (German: die Berliner Gruppe) was a group that maintained logical empiricist views about philosophy.

Constructive empiricism

In philosophy, constructive empiricism (also empiricist structuralism) is a form of empiricism.

Early adopter

An early adopter (sometimes misspelled as early adapter or early adaptor) or lighthouse customer is an early customer of a given company, product, or technology. The term originates from Everett M. Rogers' Diffusion of Innovations (1962).

Epistemological idealism

Epistemological idealism is a subjectivist position in epistemology that holds that what one knows about an object exists only in one's mind. It is opposed to epistemological realism.

History of sociology

Sociology as a scholarly discipline emerged primarily out of the Enlightenment thought, shortly after the French Revolution, as a positivist science of society. Its genesis owed to various key movements in the philosophy of science and the philosophy of knowledge. Social analysis in a broader sense, however, has origins in the common stock of philosophy and necessarily pre-dates the field. Modern academic sociology arose as a reaction to modernity, capitalism, urbanization, rationalization, secularization, colonization and imperialism. Late-19th-century sociology demonstrated a particularly strong interest in the emergence of the modern nation state; its constituent institutions, its units of socialization, and its means of surveillance. An emphasis on the concept of modernity, rather than the Enlightenment, often distinguishes sociological discourse from that of classical political philosophy.Various quantitative social research techniques have become common tools for governments, businesses, and organizations, and have also found use in the other social sciences. Divorced from theoretical explanations of social dynamics, this has given social research a degree of autonomy from the discipline of sociology. Similarly, "social science" has come to be appropriated as an umbrella term to refer to various disciplines which study humans, interaction, society or culture.

Humanistic sociology

Humanistic sociology is a domain of sociology which originated mainly from the work of the University of Chicago Polish philosopher-turned-sociologist, Florian Znaniecki. It is a methodology which treats its objects of study and its students, that is, humans, as composites of values and systems of values. In certain contexts, the term is related to other sociological domains such as antipositivism. Humanistic sociology seeks to shed light on questions such as, "What is the relationship between a man of principle and a man of opportunism?"

Mapping controversies

Mapping controversies (MC) is an academic course taught in science studies, stemming from the writings of the French sociologist and philosopher Bruno Latour. MC focuses exclusively on the controversies surrounding scientific knowledge rather than the established scientific facts or outcomes. Thus, it helps sociologists, anthropologists and other social scientists get insights not into scientific knowledge per se, but rather into the process of gaining knowledge. Thus, MC sheds light on those intermediate stages corresponding to the actual research process and pinpoints the connections between scientific work and other types of activities.


Negativism may refer to:


A trait of catatonic stupor



Positivism is a philosophical theory stating that certain ("positive") knowledge is based on natural phenomena and their properties and relations. Thus, information derived from sensory experience, interpreted through reason and logic, forms the exclusive source of all certain knowledge. Positivism holds that valid knowledge (certitude or truth) is found only in this a posteriori knowledge.

Verified data (positive facts) received from the senses are known as empirical evidence; thus positivism is based on empiricism.Positivism also holds that society, like the physical world, operates according to general laws. Introspective and intuitive knowledge is rejected, as are metaphysics and theology because metaphysical and theological claims cannot be verified by sense experience. Although the positivist approach has been a recurrent theme in the history of western thought, the modern approach was formulated by the philosopher Auguste Comte in the early 19th century. Comte argued that, much as the physical world operates according to gravity and other absolute laws, so does society, and further developed positivism into a Religion of Humanity.

Positivism dispute

The positivism dispute (German: Positivismusstreit) was a political-philosophical dispute between the critical rationalists (Karl Popper, Hans Albert) and the Frankfurt School (Theodor Adorno, Jürgen Habermas) in 1961, about the methodology of the social sciences. It grew into a broad discussion within German sociology from 1961 to 1969. The naming itself is controversial, since it was the Frankfurt School proponents who accused the critical rationalists of being positivists—while the latter considered themselves to be opponents of positivism. On the political level, it was a dispute between the leftist Frankfurt School proponents supporting revolution, and the allegedly bourgeois critical rationalists supporting reform as the method to be preferred to change society.


In philosophy and models of scientific inquiry, postpositivism (also called postempiricism) is a metatheoretical stance that critiques and amends positivism. While positivists emphasize independence between the researcher and the researched person (or object), postpositivists argue that theories, background, knowledge and values of the researcher can influence what is observed. Postpositivists pursue objectivity by recognizing the possible effects of biases. While positivists emphasize quantitative methods, postpositivists consider both quantitative and qualitative methods to be valid approaches.

Russian Machism

Russian Machism is a political/philosophical viewpoint which emerged in Imperial Russia in the beginning of the twentieth century before the Russian Revolution. They upheld the scientific and philosophical insights of Ernst Mach to be of great interest. Many of the Russian Machists were Marxists, and indeed viewed Machism as an essential ingredient of a materialist outlook on the world.

Social theory

Social theories are analytical frameworks, or paradigms, that are used to study and interpret social phenomena. A tool used by social scientists, social theories relate to historical debates over the validity and reliability of different methodologies (e.g. positivism and antipositivism), the primacy of either structure or agency, as well as the relationship between contingency and necessity. Social theory in an informal nature, or authorship based outside of academic social and political science, may be referred to as "social criticism" or "social commentary", or "cultural criticism" and may be associated both with formal cultural and literary scholarship, as well as other non-academic or journalistic forms of writing.


Sociology is the study of society, patterns of social relationships, social interaction, and culture of everyday life. It is a social science that uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about social order, acceptance, and change or social evolution. While some sociologists conduct research that may be applied directly to social policy and welfare, others focus primarily on refining the theoretical understanding of social processes. Subject matter ranges from the micro-sociology level of individual agency and interaction to the macro level of systems and the social structure.The different traditional focuses of sociology include social stratification, social class, social mobility, religion, secularization, law, sexuality, gender, and deviance. As all spheres of human activity are affected by the interplay between social structure and individual agency, sociology has gradually expanded its focus to other subjects, such as health, medical, economy, military and penal institutions, the Internet, education, social capital, and the role of social activity in the development of scientific knowledge.

The range of social scientific methods has also expanded. Social researchers draw upon a variety of qualitative and quantitative techniques. The linguistic and cultural turns of the mid-20th century led to increasingly interpretative, hermeneutic, and philosophic approaches towards the analysis of society. Conversely, the end of the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s have seen the rise of new analytically, mathematically, and computationally rigorous techniques, such as agent-based modelling and social network analysis.Social research informs politicians and policy makers, educators, planners, legislators, administrators, developers, business magnates, managers, social workers, non-governmental organizations, non-profit organizations, and people interested in resolving social issues in general. There is often a great deal of crossover between social research, market research, and other statistical fields.

The Universe in a Nutshell

The Universe in a Nutshell is a 2001 book about theoretical physics by Stephen Hawking. It is generally considered a sequel and was created to update the public concerning developments since the multi-million-copy bestseller A Brief History of Time published in 1988.


Verstehen (German pronunciation: [fɛɐˈʃteːən], literally: "to understand"), in the context of German philosophy and social sciences in general, has been used since the late 19th century – in English as in German – with the particular sense of the "interpretive or participatory" examination of social phenomena. The term is closely associated with the work of the German sociologist, Max Weber, whose antipositivism established an alternative to prior sociological positivism and economic determinism, rooted in the analysis of social action. In anthropology, Verstehen has come to mean a systematic interpretive process in which an outside observer of a culture attempts to relate to it and understand others.

Verstehen is now seen as a concept and a method central to a rejection of positivistic social science (although Weber appeared to think that the two could be united). Verstehen refers to understanding the meaning of action from the actor's point of view. It is entering into the shoes of the other, and adopting this research stance requires treating the actor as a subject, rather than an object of your observations. It also implies that unlike objects in the natural world human actors are not simply the product of the pulls and pushes of external forces. Individuals are seen to create the world by organizing their own understanding of it and giving it meaning. To do research on actors without taking into account the meanings they attribute to their actions or environment is to treat them like objects.


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