As humans we are constantly engaged in interpretation – drawing insight from what we see and hear in the world around us, from the stories we read online and conversations with the people we encounter. But what does it mean to think of research in this way – i.e. as a method of social inquiry? What specific problems might interpretive methods allow us to address? The answer to these questions relies heavily on the notion that as individuals we are meaning-bearing agents; meaning-generative ones too. The decisions we make – how we vote, what parties we join, what songs we sing, what rallies we attend – are based in part on what meanings we ascribe to these acts, what significance they have for us. Thinking interpretively about the social world offers purchase on a number of features usually eschewed by traditional (positivist) social science approaches – including the ways in which peoples’ lives are circumscribed by power, the structural harms of institutions (even putatively just ones), the community-embedded logic of actions/movements – and helps us identify the disconnect between concepts as they exist on paper and how they operate in the lifeworlds we inhabit.
This workshop is designed to prepare students to employ interpretive methods for the pursuit of social inquiry. It will focus on the two central tasks of any research project: first, choosing and refining a research question (and in particular, specifying the kind of questions that can be wed to interpretive methods); second, selecting a specific method of inquiry. To this end, the course will offer a methodological ‘bootcamp’ of sorts – covering ethnography/participant observation, discourse analysis, genealogy, historiography, etc. The workshop will include a mixture of seminar discussions as well as hands-on exercises and interactive group work focused on particular tasks of interpretation.