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Sociology   >   Positivism and Interpretivism in Social Research

Introduction to Positivism

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Positivism and Interpretivism in Social Research

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?

Introduction to Positivism

In this lecture, we provide a broad introduction to the philosophical theory of positivism, focusing in particular on: (i) the two 'waves' of positivism: the first two hundred years ago, and the second at the beginning of the twentieth century; (ii) the work of Auguste Comte (1798-1857), the 'law of three stages', and the development of the theory of positivism; (iii) the second 'wave' of positivism: the Vienna and Berlin Circles, the concept of logical empiricism, and the verification principle; (iv) the impact of Hitler's rise to power in spreading positivism around the world as key thinkers were forced out of central Europe; (v) further developments by figures such as Karl Popper (1902-94), including his preference for a falsification principle instead of a verification principle; and (vi) the gradual weakening of positivism under the impact of its critics, including the work of Thomas Kuhn (1922-96).

Cite this Lecture

APA style

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

MLA style

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

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Prof. William Outhwaite

Newcastle University