Quantitative research as an interpretive enterprise: The mostly unacknowledged role of interpretation in research efforts and suggestions for explicitly interpretive quantitative investigations

Michael A. Westerman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Many critics of positivism in psychology oppose the use of quantitative research methods. The author first argues that a premise accepted by both critics and supporters of quantitative research is mistaken. Contrary to what many critics and supporters alike believe, interpretation plays key, unacknowledged roles in how quantitative methods are actually employed. The author then argues that a hermeneutic perspective based on practices leads to the view that our understanding of psychological phenomena is irreducibly interpretive and also leads to recognizing that quantitative research can make a unique contribution to inquiry. In the final section of the article, the author offers suggestions about how to conduct explicitly interpretive quantitative investigations. These suggestions are based on the view that although the influence of positivism is not all-constraining (and, therefore, interpretation typically does enter into quantitative methods as they are actually employed), commitments to positivism do constrain how quantitative researchers pursue their work. As part of marking out a different critical viewpoint on positivism, the author attempts to identify what is really involved in going beyond a modernist approach.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)189-211
Number of pages23
JournalNew Ideas in Psychology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2006



  • Hermeneutics
  • Interpretation
  • Measurement
  • Practices
  • Qualitative research
  • Quantitative methods

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychology(all)

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