Interpretive Research Design

Concepts and Processes

By Peregrine Schwartz-Shea, Dvora Yanow

© 2012 – Routledge

200 pages

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Paperback: 9780415878081
pub: 2011-12-13
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Hardback: 9780415878074
pub: 2011-12-13
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e–Inspection Copy

About the Book

Research design is fundamental to all scientific endeavors, at all levels and in all institutional settings. In many social science disciplines, however, scholars working in an interpretive-qualitative tradition get little guidance on this aspect of research from the positivist-centered training they receive. This book is an authoritative examination of the concepts and processes underlying the design of an interpretive research project. Such an approach to design starts with the recognition that researchers are inevitably embedded in the intersubjective social processes of the worlds they study.

In focusing on researchers’ theoretical, ontological, epistemological, and methods choices in designing research projects, Schwartz-Shea and Yanow set the stage for other volumes in the Routledge Series on Interpretive Methods. They also engage some very practical issues, such as ethics reviews and the structure of research proposals. This concise guide explores where research questions come from, criteria for evaluating research designs, how interpretive researchers engage with "world-making," context, systematicity and flexibility, reflexivity and positionality, and such contemporary issues as data archiving and the researcher’s body in the field.


"Peregrine Schwartz-Shea and Dvora Yanow’s Interpretive Research Design: Concepts and Processes is not a "how-to" book nor it is a philosophical meditation on the differences among methodologies, though both of these elements are present. Rather it is a book about "the good" and "the other," the criteria we use to evaluate what counts as "research" in social science, and the politics of categorization. . . . It is an important and eminently readable book that deserves a wide readership among researchers, grant reviewers, journal editors, and graduate students."

-Thomas J. Catlaw, for Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory

"Schwartz-Shea and Yanow answer all the questions that pester and unnerve fieldworkers, in language that is understandable and with examples that make all the complex meanings clear. Their book will help both novices and experienced researchers find their way to believable and unassailable results."

Howard S. Becker, author of Tricks of the Trade and Writing for Social Scientists

"Interpretive Research Design offers essential guidance for students and scholars who want to reach beyond the confines of positivist inquiry. In clear, engaging prose, the authors explain how to develop the key elements of an interpretive study and communicate them effectively to reviewers and readers. The authors, both leading figures in contemporary debates over methodology, offer perspectives on research that are consistently insightful and occasionally (wonderfully) provocative."

Joe Soss, University of Minnesota

"Interpretive Research Design is a streamlined, clear, and important discussion of a topic of crucial concern across the social sciences. Bringing together interpretive principles and practice, this welcome book reminds us that scholars who study not rocks or genomes but people and communities require a commensurate understanding of science. Both interpretivists and non-interpretivists who seek greater familiarity with the tradition must read—and ponder deeply—Schwartz-Shea and Yanow’s lucid discussion to learn what good interpretive social science looks, sounds, and feels like."

Edward Schatz, University of Toronto

"Schwartz-Shea and Yanow clearly demonstrate the stakes, value, and reasoning behind interpretive research in the field. Both interpretivist and non-interpretivist political scientists desperately need this volume to achieve their potential for excellence in research: it guides interpretivists in their efforts to conduct sophisticated yet accessible research on critical topics across the range of subfields in the discipline, and it allows non-interpretivists to recognize equal excellence in interpretivist and positivist modalities and insights."

Cecelia Lynch, University of California, Irvine

"Interpretive Research Design: Concepts and Processes is an indispensable handbook that should have a place on the bookshelf of every politics, policy and public administration scholar whose work is informed by an interpretive approach. More importantly, in regards to shaping the future development of these social scientific disciplines, Schwartz-Shea and Yanow’s text should have a place on every Research Design and Methods syllabi. That way, regardless of their methodological persuasions, students will become as familiar with the practice of interpretive social science research as they are with alternative approaches."

- Richard Holtzman ,Bryant University, Smithfield

Table of Contents

Introduction 1. Wherefore Research Designs? 2. Ways of Knowing: Research Questions and Logics of Inquiry 3. Starting from Meaning: Contextuality and its Implications 4. The Rythms of Interpretive Research I: Getting Going 5. The Rhythms of Interpretive Research II: Understanding and Generating Evidence 6. Designing for Trustworthiness: Knowledge Claims and Evaluations of Interpretive Research 7. Design in Context: From the Human Side of Research to Writing Proposals and Research Manuscripts 8. Speaking Across Epistemic Communities

About the Authors

Peregrine Schwartz-Shea is Professor of Political Science at the University of Utah. Dvora Yanow is Guest Professor in the Communication, Philosophy, and Technology sub-department, Faculty of Social Sciences, at Wageningen University. Together, they are co-editors of Interpretation and Method: Empirical Research Methods and the Interpretive Turn and created and run the "Methods Café" at both the American Political Science Association and Western Political Science Association annual meetings. They are also researching Institutional Review Board (and other ethics review committee) policies and their relationships with field research.

About the Series

Routledge Series on Interpretive Methods

Series Editors: Dvora Yanow, Peregrine Schwartz-Shea

The Routledge Series on Interpretive Methods comprises a collection of slim volumes, each devoted to different issues in interpretive methodology and its associated methods. The topics covered will establish the methodological grounding for interpretive approaches in ways that distinguish interpretive methods from quantitative and qualitative methods in the positivist tradition. The series as a whole engages three types of concerns: 1) methodological issues, looking at key concepts and processes; 2) approaches and methods, looking at how interpretive methodologies are manifested in different forms of research; and 3) disciplinary and subfield areas, demonstrating how interpretive methods figure in different fields across the social sciences.

Approachable yet authoritative, the volumes are especially useful for graduate students looking for sources that lay out the reasoning and terminology of interpretive methodologies. Academic and independent researchers writing research plans for grant applications or research sabbaticals can use these volumes to support the systematic procedural character and rigorous argumentation of interpretive research. Instructors teaching research methods courses will find the books valuable in providing an explanation of the differences between interpretive research methods and those of "traditional" positivist research. These may also be useful volumes for journal editors and reviewers of manuscripts who are not familiar with these differences.

Interpretive Research Design: Concepts and Processes

Peregrine Schwartz-Shea and Dvora Yanow

Interpreting International Politics

Cecelia Lynch

Ethnography and Interpretation

Timothy Pachirat

Analyzing Social Narratives

Shaul R. Shenhav

Elucidating Social Science Concepts: An Interpretivist Guide

Frederic Charles Schaffer

Interviewing in Social Science Research: An Interpretive Approach

Lee Ann Fujii

International Advisory Board

Michael Agar, Emeritus, University of Maryland College Park and Ethknoworks LLC, Sante Fe, NM
Mark Bevir, University of California, Berkeley
Pamela Brandwein, University of Michigan
Kevin Bruyneel, Babson College
Douglas C. Dow, University of Texas, Dallas
Vincent Dubois, University of Strasbourg
Raymond Duvall, University of Minnesota
Martha S. Feldman, University of California, Irvine
Lene Hansen, University of Copenhagen
Victoria Hattam, The New School
Emily Hauptmann, Western Michigan University
Markus Haverland, Erasmus University, Rotterdam
David Howarth, University of Essex
Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, American University
Timothy Kaufman-Osborn, Whitman College
Bernhard Kittel, Oldenburg University
Jan Kubik, Rutgers University
Beate Littig, Institute for Advanced Studies, Vienna
Joseph Lowndes, University of Oregon
Timothy Luke, Virginia Tech
Cecelia Lynch, University of California, Irvine
Navdeep Mathur, India Institute of Management
Julie Novkov, State University of New York at Albany
Ido Oren, University of Florida
Ellen Pader, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Frederic Charles Schaffer, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Edward Schatz, University of Toronto
Ronald Schmidt, Sr., California State University, Long Beach
James C. Scott, Yale University
Samer Shehata, Georgetown University
Diane Singerman, American University
Joe Soss, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Camilla Stivers, Cleveland State University
John Van Maanen, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Katherine Cramer Walsh, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Lisa Wedeen, University of Chicago
Jutta E. Weldes, Bristol University

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Sociology / General
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Sociology / Urban