On the Scientific Status of Interpretive Inquiry
Interpretive social science is well established institutionally at universities and research centres. It benefits from this institutional context in terms of prestige, credibility and grants. In comparison with non-interpretive disciplines however, its scientific status is questionable. What elements of it are really scientific and what elements are threats to this scientific character? This problem has been discussed in the past but unfortunately the discussion has gradually dried up without a successful resolution. In my thesis I am revitalising it. I take a systematic rather than historical approach: instead of picking up the discussion where it has been abandoned, I begin with a working definition of science, and analyse to what extent interpretive inquiry meets the requirements of this definition. The structure of my thesis follows this definition in that what is discussed is the three substantial elements of it - theory, research method, and professional quality control. In relation to theory, I pose questions on a range of topics, such as whether interpretive social science is explanatory, and whether it generates new knowledge. In relation to method, I explore, amongst other things, whether qualitative method permits the production of valid and reliable findings. The discussion of professional quality control considers issues around the reporting of findings and the assessment of these findings by others. I complement my analysis by considering three interpretive case studies, exploring both whether they produce theoretical knowledge and reflecting on their methodological strengths and weaknesses. Additionally, I explore the border between interpretive inquiry and non-fiction arts, such as literary reportage and documentary filmmaking, arguing that this border is more blurred than it may first appear.