What is the difference between Positivist and Interpretivist?

Positivism and Interpretivism are two very important, and very different approaches to sociological research and study. Here are some key features of these two positions, which highlight the fundamental differences between them.


1) Associated with ‘scientific method’
- Positivists believe the social sciences can be as rigorously scientific as the natural sciences
- Theories and ‘hypotheses’ can be generated and then tested using direct observation or ‘empirical’ research
- Positivists are most likely to use ‘quantitative’ analysis using statistical methods etc

2) Believe in value-free, objective research

- Using interpretivist research methods make it impossible to see beyond our own personal baises and experiences.

- A scientific methodology allows us to gain objective, trustworthy and generalisable data, more beneficial to sociological theory.


1) Our knowledge of the world is ‘socially constructed’

- Knowledge is not ‘objective’ and ‘value-free', but is transmitted to us through ideas, discourses and experiences.

- There are no simple 'facts', only interpretations of the world.

2) The type of ‘objective’ and scientific social science which positivists attempt is simply not possible.

- Attempting to discover 'facts' wastes time that could be spent attempting to udnerstand the ways in which different people interpret the world.

- It is not possible to make valid causal statements or predictions about the social world.