Interpretivism vs. Post-Positivism

What's the Difference?

Interpretivism and Post-Positivism are two contrasting approaches in social science research. Interpretivism emphasizes the importance of understanding social phenomena through subjective interpretations and meanings attributed by individuals. It argues that social reality is constructed through human interactions and cannot be reduced to objective facts. On the other hand, Post-Positivism acknowledges the existence of an external reality but recognizes the limitations of objective knowledge. It argues that social phenomena are complex and influenced by multiple factors, making it impossible to achieve complete objectivity. Post-Positivism emphasizes the importance of critical thinking, reflexivity, and acknowledging the role of values and biases in research. While Interpretivism focuses on understanding the subjective experiences of individuals, Post-Positivism aims to uncover the underlying structures and power dynamics that shape social phenomena.


OntologyMultiple subjective realitiesObjective reality exists
EpistemologySubjective knowledge through interpretationObjective knowledge through observation and measurement
Research FocusUnderstanding social phenomena and meaningsExplaining causal relationships
Research MethodsQualitative methods (interviews, observations)Quantitative methods (experiments, surveys)
Role of ResearcherActive participant, subjective interpretationObjective observer, detached from the research
GeneralizabilityContext-specific, limited generalizabilitySeeking generalizability to broader populations
Value NeutralityResearcher's values influence interpretationStrive for value neutrality and objectivity

Further Detail


When it comes to research methodologies, two prominent approaches that often emerge in social sciences are interpretivism and post-positivism. While both aim to understand and explain social phenomena, they differ in their ontological and epistemological assumptions, research methods, and the role of the researcher. This article will delve into the attributes of interpretivism and post-positivism, highlighting their key differences and similarities.

Ontology and Epistemology

Interpretivism, also known as constructivism or social constructionism, is rooted in the belief that reality is subjective and socially constructed. It argues that individuals and groups assign meaning to their experiences, and these meanings shape their actions and behaviors. Interpretivists emphasize the importance of understanding the context, culture, and subjective perspectives of individuals to gain insights into social phenomena.

On the other hand, post-positivism, also referred to as critical realism, acknowledges the existence of an objective reality but recognizes that our understanding of it is limited by our subjective interpretations. Post-positivists argue that while we can never fully grasp the objective reality, we can strive for a more accurate understanding through rigorous scientific inquiry. They emphasize the use of empirical evidence and systematic observation to uncover patterns and regularities in social phenomena.

Research Methods

Interpretivism favors qualitative research methods, such as interviews, participant observation, and textual analysis. These methods allow researchers to explore the subjective meanings and interpretations individuals attach to their experiences. By immersing themselves in the social context, interpretivists aim to capture the complexity and richness of human behavior and social interactions. They often employ inductive reasoning, starting with specific observations and building theories based on these observations.

Post-positivism, on the other hand, leans towards quantitative research methods, such as surveys, experiments, and statistical analysis. These methods aim to uncover generalizable patterns and causal relationships between variables. Post-positivists emphasize the importance of objectivity and replicability in research, striving for results that can be tested and verified by other researchers. They often employ deductive reasoning, starting with a theory or hypothesis and testing it against empirical evidence.

Role of the Researcher

In interpretivism, the researcher is seen as an active participant in the research process. They acknowledge their own subjectivity and the potential influence they may have on the research outcomes. Interpretivists often engage in reflexivity, reflecting on their own biases and assumptions, and how these may shape their interpretations. They aim to establish rapport and build trust with participants, recognizing that their presence and interactions can impact the data collected.

Post-positivism, on the other hand, emphasizes the researcher's role as an objective observer. While they acknowledge the potential for bias, post-positivists strive to minimize it through rigorous research design and methodology. They aim to maintain a certain level of detachment from the research subjects to ensure the objectivity of the findings. Post-positivists often employ standardized procedures and protocols to reduce the potential influence of the researcher on the data collected.

Validity and Generalizability

Interpretivism places a strong emphasis on the validity of research findings. Validity in interpretive research refers to the extent to which the interpretations and meanings assigned to social phenomena accurately reflect the perspectives of the participants. Interpretivists argue that understanding the subjective experiences of individuals is more important than generalizing findings to a larger population. They prioritize depth over breadth, aiming for rich and nuanced understandings of social phenomena.

Post-positivism, on the other hand, prioritizes generalizability and external validity. Post-positivists aim to uncover patterns and regularities that can be applied to a broader population or context. They argue that scientific knowledge should be cumulative and build upon previous research. Post-positivists often employ statistical techniques to ensure that their findings are representative of the larger population and can be generalized beyond the specific research context.


Interpretivism and post-positivism represent two distinct approaches to social science research. While interpretivism emphasizes the subjective nature of reality and the importance of understanding individual perspectives, post-positivism acknowledges the existence of an objective reality but recognizes the limitations of our interpretations. Interpretivism leans towards qualitative methods, focusing on context and meaning, while post-positivism favors quantitative methods, aiming for generalizable patterns. The role of the researcher also differs, with interpretivists acknowledging their subjectivity and post-positivists striving for objectivity. Ultimately, the choice between these approaches depends on the research question, context, and the desired outcomes of the study.

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