The expression interpretive theory refers to a relatively large umbrella category that includes analytical perspectives and theories spanning the fields of communication, sociology, anthropology, education, cultural studies, political science, history, and the humanities writ large. Interpretive theories, sometimes referred to as interpretivism or philosophical interpretivism, are orientations to social reality based on the goal of understanding. Thus, we can define interpretive theories as ontological and epistemological tools used in research concerned with understanding how individuals and groups create meaning in their everyday practices, communication, and lived experiences.

Loosely speaking, interpretivists are (a) scholars who are interested in the ways communities, cultures, or individuals create meaning from their own actions, rituals, interactions, and experiences; (b) scholars who wish to interpret local meanings by locating them into a broader historical, geographical, political, linguistic, ideological, economic, and cultural milieu; (c) researchers who look at the meanings of texts and the codes and rules on which they rely to convey meaning; and (d) theory- and philosophy-oriented scholars who explore ideas of meaning and interpretation in and of themselves.

To comprehend the quintessential characteristics of interpretivism and better appreciate its uniqueness and usefulness, it is useful to begin by looking at its philosophical origins and then juxtaposing interpretivist theories with interpretivism’s most notable counterpart: the perspective of positivism. Subsequently, this entry explores interpretivism as it relates to social scientific communication research by examining its common ontological and epistemological characteristics.

Littlejohn, Stephen W and Karen A.Floss. (2009). Encyclopedia of Communication Theory.USA:SAGE. 626

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Edwina Ayu Kustiawan