Difference Between Positivism and Interpretivism

Positivism vs Interpretivism

Understanding social behavior is the main aim of sociologists and to aid them in their endeavor, many theories have been propounded. Two of the most popular theories are positivism and Interpretivism that are in sharp contrast to each other though sharing some similarities. This article attempts to find out the differences between these two theories by highlighting their features.


Positivism was a result of rejection of concepts that belonged to metaphysics, for example god. As sociologists found it different to explain things as also to test and prove, they looked for other ideas. They felt a strong need for social sciences to be more objective and verifiable as science subjects. Positivism arose as an alternative to metaphysics in an attempt to describe social phenomenon leaving aside what cannot be known or is beyond the scope of social sciences. Positivists are of the view that we can analyze and draw conclusions only what we observe. What we see and can measure forms the subject matter of positivism. Two of the most influential positivists are Durkheim and Comte.


Interpretivism arose as scientists felt that human beings were not puppets to react to stimuli in a prescribed manner. They were active and purposeful and can respond to stimuli in different ways depending upon their interpretation. Interpretivists describe human beings as having intent and the power to interpret;they say that human beings have the capability to construct their surroundings rather than being a mere spectators to what is happening around them. These scientists stressed the thinking, intentions and behaviors of human beings more than positivists thereby drawing conclusions that were more realistic and perhaps more valid also. Interpretivists talk about shared consciousness as the brain behind many of the concepts in a society.

In brief:

Positivism vs Interpretivism

• Behavior of human beings in a society is sought to be explained on the basis of two very popular theories known as positivism and Interpretivism

• While positivism looks at institutions in the society, Interpretivism looks at the individual in the society

• Positivism is macro sociology while Interpretivism is micro sociology

• While positivists try to treat sociology as a science dealing in numbers and experiments, interpretivists criticize this approach and say that sociology is not a science and human behavior cannot be explained through quantification.