Non-Positivist Methodologies in Sociology

Non Positivist Methodologies in Sociology

Positivism in sociology refers to the scientific approach. The positivists believe that society can be studied in a scientific manner and the laws governing human behaviour can be derived. However, a number of methodologies in sociology reject the positivist approach. These non-positivist approaches or methodologies are as follows:-

Non-Positivist Methodologies in Sociology

Non-positivist methodologies in Sociology are following-

  • Hermeneutics/Verstehen/interpretative approach.
  • Symbolic interactionism
  • Phenomenology
  • Ethnomethodology

Hermeneutics/Verstehen/Interpretative Approach

Hermeneutics has been a distinct discipline. It has never been a part of sociology. As a discipline, it tries to not only be interested and the meaning of published material, a written piece of work, but it also tries to understand the mental condition of the writer while writing the piece of work. From the same discipline, Weber borrowed the term ‘Verstehen‘. Verstehen is a germen term which literally means interpretative understanding. According to weber, in sociology, we can only have an interpretative understanding of social actions. Hence, Verstehen can be used as a methodology. Weber said that Verstehen, as a methodology can be used in two steps. Firstly through direct observational understanding and secondly by establishing empathy with the actor.

Symbolic interactionism

Symbolic interactionism is another approach which is different from positivism. Symbolic interactionism is associated with sociologists such as Mead, Cooley and Blumer etc. The symbolic interactionists believe that society exists because of interaction among members of the society. These interactions take place with the help of symbols such as language, script and gestures. The positivists have rejected the role of psychological factors in interaction, however, the symbolic interactionists have always given importance to psychological factors. The symbolic interactionists have been interested in understanding the process of understanding ‘self’. They believe that personality is not shaped by only society but also by inherent characteristics. George Herbert Mead said that the ‘self’ of an individual is a combination of ‘I’ and ‘Me’. ‘I’ is the savage self of an individual interested in the pleasure of the senses. On the other hand ‘Me’ is that part which is shaped by society. Hence, whenever psychological factors do play a role, law-like generalisation is not possible.


Phenomenology is another non-positivists approach which can be used in sociology in order to understand human society. it was a methodology used in philosophy in order to understand the absolute truth. Later it was borrowed by sociologists in the form of social phenomenology. Phenomenology rejects the positivist approach. According to Phenomenology, the knowledge of society cannot be derived by using the methodologies used in natural science. Phenomenology believes in experience. According to it the knowledge of society can be derived only through experience. Since each may have different experiences even the knowledge of society may differ from individual to individual.


Ethnomethodology as a concept was propounded by Harold Garfinkel. It is considered to be an extension of phenomenology. However, as a methodology, it emerged in sociology and not in philosophy. Positivism believes that the culture of society plays a vital role in shaping human behaviour. According to positivists norms and values of the society are rooted in the culture of the society. Hence, if the norms and the values are understood completely, Human behaviour can be understood easily. Ethnomethodology rejects this view. According to it, man is not cultural dope. It means that man does not follow culture blindly. Different individuals in society look upon society from their own different perspectives. Hence, the understanding of society varies from individual to individual. Even the cultural norms and values can be interpreted by different individuals differently. Therefore, the laws governing human behaviour may not be derived.

More Topics from Sociology

Definition of SociologyNature of Sociology
Power and Authority: Max WeberGeorge Herbert Mead: Symbolic Interactionism
Marriage in Tribal SocietiesVerstehen: Max Weber
Important Sociology Topics

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