Structural Hermeneutics Reconsidered

Monday, 11 July 2016: 14:37
Location: Hörsaal 4A KS (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Werner BINDER, Masaryk University, Czech Republic
In my talk, I will provide the outline of an interpretative methodology that is suitable for all kinds of data. Following Jeffrey Alexander and Philip Smith, I will call this methodology structural hermeneutics, because it combines a Geertzian “thick description” of the “surface” with a structuralist explanation referring to a “cultural depth”. I will further argue that we have to go beyond the model proposed by Alexander and Smith, whose main flaw is a certain disconnect between surface and depth rooted in their structuralist linguist assumptions.

I am suggesting reconsidering structural hermeneutics in the light of Karl Mannheim’s early essay on interpretation, where he distinguishes three levels of meaning, which correspond to the dichotomy of surface and depth. The dialectics between surface and depth requires a particular type of interpretation which Mannheim dubbed „documentary interpretation“. The surface has to be interpreted as manifestation of a deep structure, whereas the deep structure is only accessible through the interpretation of the surface. We can understand this structure as a “cultural background” that constitutes intentional acts and renders them meaningful. In terms of the research process, I advocate the use of “abductive reasoning” (Peirce, Timmermans & Tavory), which allows us to make an “educated guess” about underlying deep-structures, which can be tested empirically afterwards.

Panofsky’s iconological interpretation of images (which he owes to Mannheim), Bourdieu’s concept of habitus (which he adapted from Panofsky) as well as Foucault’s understanding of episteme (derived from structuralism) can be regarded as specifications of the proposed method. Drawing on these classics and more contemporary contributions to qualitative methodology, such as the “reconstructive method” of Ralf Bohnsack and the “objective hermeneutics” of Ulrich Oevermann, we arrive at a general model of structural hermeneutics that can be used for the interpretation of images, interviews and discourses.