For the past fifty years anxiety over the problem of naturalism has driven debates in social theory. One side pursues the idea of social science as another kind of natural science, while the other radically rejects the possibility of objective and explanatory knowledge. All of the various developments in social scientific theory since then have reflected this dichotomy between naturalism and post-modernism. "Interpretation and Social Knowledge" suggests a third way, reframing this debate and offering a synthetic vision that sets out a new understanding of sociological interpretation. Analyzing the work of writers such as Theda Skocpol, Clifford Geertz, Leela Gandhi, Roy Bhaskar, Foucault, and Habermas, Isaac Ariail Reed delineates three epistemic modes of social research: realism, normativism, and interpretivism. Reed argues that the last mode provides a way forward for an anti-naturalist sociology that overcomes the opposition between interpretation and explanation and uses theory to build concrete, historically specific causal explanations of social phenomena.
Both an examination of and a theoretical meditation on how social investigators do their work, "Interpretation and Social Knowledge" is an ingenious and fruitful exploration of what makes the human sciences uniquely capable of revealing and explaining our world.
Isaac Ariail Reed is assistant professor of sociology at the University of Colorado at Boulder and coeditor of Culture, Society, and Democracy: The Interpretive Approach and Meaning and Method: The Cultural Approach to Sociology.