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Weber’s sociology—‘verstehend’ or ‘deutend’?

DOI https://doi.org/10.15543/MWS/2016/1/4

Hans Henrik Bruun



When translating Max Weber’s methodological writings, I had to consider the (de)merits of the ‘received’ translation of ‘verstehende Soziologie’ as ‘interpretive sociology’; and this led me to the present, detailed study of Weber’s discussion and use of the terms ‘Verstehen’ and ‘Deuten’. I conclude that, although, in Weber’s work, ‘Verstehen’ and ‘Deuten’ form a sort of methodological amalgam, ‘Deuten’ typically indicates a necessary process having ‘Verstehen’ as its result. The examination of Weber’s use of the two terms also raises doubts as to the implications of the sub-category of ‘aktuelles Verstehen’ discussed in Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft. Finally, it emerges that Weber himself was far from consistent in his use of ‘Verstehen’ and ‘Deuten’. Against this background, ‘interpretive sociology’ seems to be a perfectly acceptable translation of what Weber meant by ‘verstehende Soziologie’, and one may even feel that regrettable misunderstandings might have been avoided if Weber himself had chosen to describe his sociology as ‘deutend’ rather than as ‘verstehend’.

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5 Bruun, H.H., and S. Whimster, eds. 2012. ‘On some categories of interpretive sociology’. In Collected Methodological Writings, trans. H.H. Bruun, 273-301. Abingdon/New York: Routledge. (Q: Bruun, Categories) [Crossref]

6 —2012. ‘Knies and the problem of irrationality’. In Collected Methodological Writings, trans. H.H. Bruun, 28-93. Abingdon/New York: Routledge. (Q: Bruun, Knies) [Crossref]

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