What are some examples of hermeneutics

Objective hermeneutics was developed by Ullrich Oevermann (1981, 2000) as a social science research method for the interpretation of texts. Her central concern is to tie the "act of interpretation as the methodological core of a meaningful research into reality" (Wernet, 2000, p. 9) to intersubjectively verifiable criteria.

Some terms and concepts are explained on this page using examples (to open the examples, please click on the terms highlighted in blue). They come from the work "I am breaking what I want here‘ objective-hermeneutic analysis of an interaction with an aggressive child "by Lisa Heinzmann (2005). The entire work can be downloaded here as a PDF.

In a concrete situation, the actors choose certain actions from among the possibilities opened up by social rules. This selection is not made statically but in a process, since after each decision made, new alternative courses of action arise as connection options. Therefore, the objective-hermeneutic reconstruction of the pattern on which a certain interaction is based (the so-called case structure) must take place in a process in which the sequence of specific selections is considered against the background of the respective possible connection alternatives. However, the fact that the social rules of our reality cannot be circumvented does not make an unexpected, rule-breaking decision on the part of a subject impossible. On the contrary, it is what gives it its special meaning.

In the logic of objective hermeneutics, it would be a misunderstanding to believe that the acting subjects are aware of the respective case structure on which a concrete interaction situation is based. Only in the process of the sequential, objective-hermeneutic reconstruction of the case structure can the latent meaning structure of this interaction be worked out and made conscious. For the interpretation of a text, the point of view, the reality of experience and the self-image of the acting persons should only be seen as a possible angle of view. It is the level of the latent structure of meaning that gives this layer of meaning its expressiveness.

2. Literality

If one takes the textual understanding of Objective Hermeneutics as recorded social reality literally, one must also take the texts that are used to analyze reality literally. This is the only way to speak of methodological control at all. If you begin to smooth out small or large inconsistencies in the text (by considering, for example, how the speaker might have meant it), the level of the latent structure of meaning is lost. Objective hermeneutics asks the interpreter to take seriously the differences between the meaning intended by the speaker and the actually spoken text.

3. Sequentiality

Like the literal principle, the sequential principle also requires that the text be taken seriously. The point here is that one follows exactly the sequence of the logged text when interpreting it, that is to say that it is "interpretatively fair in its sequencing" (Wernet, 2000, p. 28) and that one does not take out the parts that appear important or meaningful to one . Only if one includes the position of the individual interactions in the sequence of an interaction can their meaning as action decisions of a specific life practice be reconstructed. To do this, it is imperative that you initially ignore the text that follows a passage to be interpreted (for example, by covering it up).

4. Extensiveness

The structure of meaning on which a text is based as a protocol of social reality can be reconstructed at every point in the protocol. It is therefore not necessary to fully evaluate the existing data in order to understand it. On the contrary, the effort for a complete analysis of all available data would usually be much too high. The interpretation should, however, be exhaustive from a logical point of view, which means that all meaningful contexts should be illuminated in the thought experiment. Methodological thoroughness does not mean interpreting everything, but interpreting a part in detail. In this way, one can completely reconstruct the underlying structure of an interaction through the extensive interpretation of part of its protocol.

5. thrift

When creating readings, one should limit oneself to the stories that can be justified directly from the text without the need for additional speculations. Here, however, it is not only about the research-economic dimension of the limitation of possible readings, but also above all about preventing the text from assuming aspects that cannot be justified from it, that would violate its regularity. Only in this way can the interpretation process remain methodologically controlled and accessible to others. Thrift is required not only in the formation of readings. The case structure hypotheses must also be justified from the text and attached to the protocol.

  • Wernet, A. (2000). Introduction to the interpretation technique of objective hermeneutics. Opladen: Leske & Budrich.
  • Oevermann, U. (1981). Case reconstructions and structural generalization as a contribution of objective hermeneutics to sociological-structural-theoretical analysis. (Unpublished script).
  • Oevermann, U. (2000). The case reconstruction method in basic research as well as clinical and educational practice. In Kraimer, K. (Ed.) The case reconstruction. Understanding of meaning in social science research. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.
  • Reichertz, J. (2004). Objective Hermeneutics and Hermeneutic Sociology of Knowledge. In: Flick, U. (Ed.). Companion to Qualitative Research. London: Sage.

Article written by Marco Petrucci (2008), further development by Debora Niermann (2013)


Petrucci, Marco (2008). Objective hermeneutics. QUASUS. Qualitative method portal for qualitative social, teaching and school research. URL (https://quasussite.wordpress.com/objektive-hermeneutik/)