Hermeneutic research is a type of research paper similar in many ways to phenomenological research but focuses on the interpretation of texts, events and recorded interactions. Rather than approaching texts as well-defined self-encapsulated objects, hermeneutic research examines such texts’ meanings as a function of the intentions and histories of their authors as well as the contemporal relevance of the material for the reader. It assumes that texts – or other recorded interactions and events – are a means for transmitting not merely content but also experience, beliefs and judgments. In sharp contrast to the study of natural sciences, subjects of human science research can be examined more deeply from an intuitive understanding, grounded in history and experience, of their experiences and intentions.
Typically, contemporary hermeneutic research is interactive, and the researcher and subjects can communicate with each other. Relevant methodologies include interviews, focus groups and discussions. When this is not possible – for example, when materials relate to a bygone era - research is reduced to analysis of available content, whether in textual or some other format.
Challenges to hermeneutical research center around the supposedly unscientific nature of such studies. Positivists are especially critical of such analysis because it negates their efforts to construct a unified scientific method. As in phenomenology, empathetic understanding and a priori familiarity with the topic of research or its subjects may lead to biased interpretations that are based on personal experience rather than on social science.
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