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Methods of Text and Discourse Ana/ysis provides the

most comprehensive overview of linguistic and sociological

approaches to text and discourse analysis currently available.
Among the ten llngwst1c and sociologcal models surveyed
the book looks at Grounded Theory, Content Analysis,
Conversation Analyss and Crit1cal Dscourse Analyss. Each
approach is presented accord1ng to a standardized format
which allows for d1rect systematic compansons, and the
fully annotated llsts of sources at the end of each chapter
prov1de readers with an add1t1onal means of evaluatlon of the
competing analytical methods.
lnterdiSCiplinary and internatlonal in its scope, Methods of Text
and Discourse Analysis suggests the benefits both lingusts
and sociolog1sts will derive from a more 1ntimate knowledge
of each others' methods and procedures. By enabling readers
to compare, contrast and apply a range of methods and
approaches, this book wlll be an essential resource for both
students and researchers.
Stefan Titscher works as a Proessor for Sociology at the Vienna Universty
of Economics and Business Adrrn1stration. where Michael Meyer works
as an Assistant Professor at the Department of Orgamzatonal Behaviour.
Ruth Wodak 1s a Professor lor Appled LJnguistcs ano Discourse Analysis
at the Un1versity of Vienna. She currently works as a Research P-ofessor at
the Austnan Academy of Sciences and directs the Research Center
"Discourse, Poht1cs and ldentity".
Eva Vetter is aff.tiated to the Department of Romamstcs at the University
of Vienna.

Cover Des1gn JKS Communica:ons

ISBN 0 - 7619- 6482-7

SAGE Publications
London Thousand Oaks New Deihi

9 7807


E. l.?

Methods ofText and Discourse Analysis

Stefan Titscher, Michael Meyer, Ruth Wodak
and Eva Vetter

Translated by Bryan jenner

SAGE Publications
London Thousand Oaks N ew Delhi

1 ()

1- J


S rean Tirscher, M ichael Meyer, Rurh \XIodak and

Eva Verter 2000


Firsr published 2000

Carroons Klaus P. Becker
All nghrs reservcd. No pan of rhis pubhcarion m ay be
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urilized in any form or by any means, electronic, mcchanical,
phorocopying, recordtng or orherwisc, w tthout permission in
wming from rhc Publishers.




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On Social-scicm ific Mcrhods of Text Analysis

What is a Texr'
H ow ro Obtain Material for Ana lysis- An Overview
Map of Methods and T heories




Content Analysis
Grounded Theor)'
Erhnographic Merhods
Two Ethnomethodologically Oriented Methods of Text Analysis:
Mem bership Categoriza tion Device Analysis and Conversation
Narrative Semiorics (Smantique Structurale)
SYMLOG as a Method of Text Analysis
Two Approaches to Critica! Discourse Analysis
Functional Pragmatics
Distincrion T heory Text Analysis
O bjective Hermeneurics







2 13

Bibliometric Survey: The Prominence of Methods of Text Analysis 215

Comparison of Methods of Text Analysis

23 7

Appendix: Publi.:ations and Keywords for Bibliometry









bjective hermeneurics belongs ro the group of reconsrructive procedures that

. are characrenzed by rhe nonon of d iscovering larenr srrucrures. Wirhour
relymg on any scienrific episremology of irs own, ir rarher works on rhe basis of
ever~~ay undersrandmg and refines rhis by means of a clearly motivared and
exphm ser of rules. In 1ts historical developmenr ir 'grew from being an emprica)
procedure denved from rese~rch practice, and is in rhar sense based on rhe expen ences of such research pra~1ce and on their rcconsrrucrion' (Bohnsack 1991: 69).
The develo~menr of obecnve hermeneurics as a merhod of rcxr analysis
wa~ accompamcd by a need for rhe development of a new merhodology for rhe
socal.scences. Th1s need has irs origin in rhe exrension of the research doma in
o f. soc10logy m ro arcas that are arrributed ro the exisrence of a social suhconsciOus. As h~rmene~rics, rhe merhod rhereby rranscends rhar boundary imposcd
o.n rhe classcal vananr, because rhe larrer is rrapped in rhe world of rhc indiVIdual and his or her inrenrions.
In addition to this 'looking behind rhe scenes' objective hermeneutics is
cha racrenzed above all by a compa ra tively explicit dererminarion of principies
and procedures thar analysrs musr follow.


Th~ procedu~es used in objecrive hermeneurics were developed in rhe conrexr of

an .mvesugauon o f rhe socializarion of childre n in fam ilies, in order ro be able
ro mrerprer records of fami ly-inrernal inreracrion. The deciding momenr for rhis
srudy was rhe ques n on of how ch ildren can participare in the social world of
rh~ fam dy e ven rhough rhe.y .firsr hav.e ro acquire rhe necessary comperences for
thts. The classKal subecnvtst learnmg theories of Ericson, Mead and Piager
could ~rovtde no adequare answers ro this, and so rhe merhod was developed
by fallmg back on the rheories described bclow.
. From .hermeneutics the merhod borrowed the notion rhat allunderstanding
IS condm.oned by the prior knowledge of the inrerprerer and rhar ir is extended
rhrough 1nterprerarion and thereby creares new cond itions for understanding
(herm~neutc e~rcle). Looked at in this way one could take th e sequ entia l
analyncal procedure as a special case of rhe hermeneuric circle.



The concepr of rhc subconscious was borrowed from freudian psychoanalysis and extended inw the social subconscious. Thi s applies ro rhose parts
of meaning strucrurcs rhar are nor rea li.-cd by participanrs, even rhough rhey
exerr in fluen ce as unrecogn ized conditions or uninrended conseq uences of an
acrion. T he reference ro Freud, however, should only be understood as a srructural analogy ro illusrrare the model and nor as a transfer of the concept of drive
into rhe rea lm of inreracrions (Oevermann eral. 1979: 368).
Like rhe critica! rheory of Horkheimer and Adorno, objecrive hermeneurics
rejecrs all rhose models rhar seek to undersrand rexrs using a preordained
sysrem of caregori es. Ir also adoprs rhc claim of rhe enlighrenmenr which would
show, in this case on a linguistic leve!, how acrion is constrained by dogmas,
myrhs and ideologics .


In objecrive hermencurics a particular view emerges of rhe relationship berwecn

individual and sociery that mainrains a n cqual disrancc from two opposite
poles: a subjecrivisr posirion on rhe o ne hand and a social-theo rerica l objecriviry on rhe orher. T hcsc rwo perspecrives are not seen as conrradicrions hutas a
dualism conrri buring ro a plausible descriprion of interacrive human behaviour.
The rension berween individual auronomy and rhe determincd nature of socicty
is mainrained. The freely acring subject is invesrigared wirhin rhe consrrainrs of
borh his or her personal biography and prevailing social srrucrures.
This model has consequences for rhe dcfinirion of rext. The significance of
rexr-producers as psychologicall y observable individuals disappears.
lnreracrive rexrs consrirme, on the bass of reconsrrucrable rules, objecrive meaning srruccures, and rhcse objectve meaning srructu res represent che latenr
meaning-srrucrures of rhe interacrion irself. Ir can also be said rhar a rexr, once ir
is produced, consmures a social realny wirh irs own rules and irs own procedures
for reconsrrucrion. This realiry can be arrnbured ncirher ro rhe speaker's disposirion for acrion and arrendanr psychJC circumsrances, nor ro rhe mrernal psychic
realiry of rhe recipienr. (Oevermann et al. 1979: 379)

Accordingly objecrive hermeneutics understands meaning asan objecrive social

strucrure rhat emerges interactively. T his implies rhar meaning arises m mutua l
action, bur thar rhe contriburions of rhe respective parricipants in rhe c reario n
of meaning are inaccessible and rherefore ourside rhe inrerest of rhe researcher.
A leve! of larenr meaning-srrucrures (also known as objecrive meaning-srrucrures) is posrulared as an essenrial basis for individual inrenrions. From rhis
arises a furrher need, ro introduce- ar leasr ar rhe descriprive leve! - a concept
of rhe subconscious. Transferred ro rhe model of psychoanalysis this means that
'from the viewpoinr of Objecrive H ermeneurics rhe boundary berween rhe
conscious and rhe pre-conscious is decisive, since it coincides with rhe delimitarion of whar is inrenrional' (Oevermann er al. 1979: 377). Pcrsona liry




strucwres, in the v1ew of obective hermeneu tics, are not defined as psycho logica l str uctures bu t as 'manifestations of soc1a l structures' a nd sh ou ld be
inrerpreted accordingly (1-lcinze 1987: 76).
By means of che cenrralnotion of latency, account is taken of che fact thar
socia l subjects a re cied inro accion conrexts and pa rricipate in acci ons whose
meaning-srruccure they can only parrially inrerprer. l e is no accidenc cha c che
scarcing poinr for che method comes from research inco socializacion . Thi s is
concerned, among ocher chings, w ich explain ing ho w ch ildren participare
accively in meaning-c reating acrions even chough they lack che comperence co
understand che meaning rhac is created. An ana logous s1tuario n arises when we
consider che objecrive hermeneucic1st who analyses using che counrer-facrua l
construcr chat assumes a comperen t speaker. The compccenc speaker is cha racterized by a total understanding of creaccd sense-strucrures. This appeal ro a
compecenr speaker in che gencric sense- che human as a genus, nocas an individual - forms che basis in o bjeccive hermenem ics for che use o f incuirive
assessmcnrs of appropriarcness in cransmitting che !arene sense-scrucrures of
inreractions. On che basis of linguisric comperence and compcrence in normgoverned behaviour rhac resulc from belonging ro a social community, che
inrerprccer justificd che action s of che subjeccs. In cerms of episremology chcre
is no difference berween che analysc and che subject involved in che case under
in vescigacion. Thc a na lysr has only che advancage of an objeccive view unencumbered b y sicuaciona l conscraincs .


20 1

chis brings wnh ir a requiremenr fo r a general re-oricmation in ch e social sclenccs rhat has so fa r not led to any adequate inrcllig i ble methods of data
collecrion. This helps ro explain why statemenrs on che concrete goal of rhc
mcthod are nmmally embedded in rhe broader comexr of discussion of che rcaliry of rhe above-menrioned o bjecrive mcaning-strucrures:
However we may ulrimately solve rhe problem rhat materialtzes herc of allocaring
objcc.rive meanings to psychic causes, ir 1s in the f1rst instance a matter o proving
rhe existcnce o rwo fun damcnrally d1fferent levels o reailty. On rhe one hand,
rhere IS rhe reality of che l.nenr meanmg structures of a rexr rhat can be reconstruct.:d mespective of rbe1r mental represenration on rhe pare of che rexr produccr
and rext recipient, and rhat muse consmure che sra rring pomt fo r soc1al research,
at wha rcvcr leve! of realiry. And on rhe orher hand therc IS rhe realiry of subjccrively and inrentionally represenred meanings in a texr on thc part of che acring
subjecrs. (Oevermann eral. 1979: 367)
Objecrive hermcneucics, as a merhod of texr analysis an d as a merhodology,
may be summarized chus: 'ir is exclusively a matter of rhe careful exrens1ve
analysis of che objeccive meaning of inreracrional cexts and o f rhe larem meaning of inreracrions, and chis procedure of reconstructive textual understanding
has norhmg to do with ... rhe underscanding of processes wirhin the psyche'
(Oevermann eral. 1979: 381).


14.4. 1 Principies and procedures

With che concepr of rhe !arene meaning srructures objewve possihiliries of meaning are incroduced as reJI, irrespecu ve of whether or not rhey are mtenuonally
rcalized by rhe pamcipams to che mrcraction. Objewvc Hermeneutics means
rhar imerpretanvc proccdurc rhar is needed to unlock this realiry. (Oevermann et
al. 1979: 381)
The goal of chis mech od, rhereforc, is to render visible o bjecrive srrucrures of
mteracrions. The srrucru res a re characterized as objective hecause rhey operare
indepcndend y of rhe subjecrive inrenrions of the parricipan rs . This mo tivares rhe
need ro extend rhe field of analyrically accessible social reality b y a lacenr bm
acrion-decermining level.
'Oevermann's goa l is rruly ambit ious. He is look ing for a practica! researchoriented basis ro a social science theory and merhod ology rhat, ar rhe same
time, exrends over rhe enrire field of whar humans are able to experience' (Garz
& Kraimer 1994: 7). In che words of Oevermann eral. (1979: 353) rhemselves:
'The claimed genera l significance of rhis position for sociological analysis over<111 is reflecced in the s rrong claim rha r meaning-analysis procedures rhar follow
rhis mode l demonstrate che funda men tal operarion o f measurcmem or of che
production of rheorerical ly relevant data in che socia l sciences.' If like
Oevermann et al. ( 1979: 367) we consider latent meaning-scrucrures ro be real,

The method of objecrive bermeneurics is based on two modes of proceduresequenrial analysis and derailed analysis - rhat are dercrmined by four principies, of which three ma y subsumed under che head ing of context variation. The
fou nh principie, however- che principie of che sequential mode of procedurc w ill be discussed under rhe head ing procedures.
14.4.1./ Basic concepts

Context variation

I n rhought cxperimenrs, conte'<C vana n on means che

attempt ro put che meaning unir ro he analysed in ro all conceivable comexrs, in
ard er ro be able t o reconstruct, rhrough che resu lrant d ifferences in m ean ing, rhe
larenr meaning-st r ucrures and also che concrete conditions of che acrion.
Externa/ and interna/ context Oeverm an n m akes a s trict dis rinction
betwee n externa! a nd interna! co nrcxt since thcy play a d ifferent role in the
analysis. By 'externa! contex r' he refers ro ' in format ion on the case or th e
reponed event thar are no t comained in che reporr o r rext w hich has ro be
reconstrucred' (Oeverma nn 1996: 101 )- in orher words, che facrua l pragmatic conditions rhat determine the rcxt from the outside and lim it the range
of inrerpretarive possibiliries. In respecr of chis externa! conrexr Oevermann


( 1996: 100) msists that 'a k nowledge of rhe actual conrexr of rhe utterance
may only he used if all the readings compatible with the rexr to be interpreted
have really been explicated as fully as possible'. ' Interna! comext', on rhe
orher hand, refers to the cumularive information that is derived from the
sequentlal analysis . This type of conrext may well be, and indeed should be,
invoked for the exclusion of sorne of the resulrant readings. This means that
only rhe fi rst place in a sequence is a nalysed independenrly o f interna! and
externa! context.
Readings 'We consider the relationship between utterance anda contextua!
condition that pragmatically realizes the urterance to be a rcading' (Oevermann
et al. 1979: 415). That is ro say, a reading includes a textual segmenr and the
possible pragmatic framework rhat relates ro ir. The producrion of readings is
the central operat ion conducred by objectivc hermeneurics in its sequenrial
analysis procedure, based on th e model of latcnt mean ing-structures (see
Oevermann 1996: 93).
The principie of extensive tnterpretation In this respect extensiveness of
analysis plays an essenrial role. Oevermann et a l. characterize rhis as follows:
Ths mean> going against che everyday pracricc of understanding motives m rhat
che mrenrion of an action partner >hould not be revealed as accurarely and quickly
as possible, but on che conrrary as fully as posstble. This in vol ves rhat all prcsuppoSttions m che rext should be included as explicirly as posstble, tncluding the
mosr 'improbable' readings or rhose rhat- in che lighr of prior knowledge of che
case- may be rorally excluded. (1979: 393)
lt is therefore crucial rhac at the beginning of an inrerpretation as many readings
of a texr as possible are made explicir and rhen invesrigaced in rhe course of rhe
detailed analysis (ar level 6 of rhe framework of caregories designed by
Oevermann er aL 1979: 395ff., sce also secrion 14.4.3.), m arder ro establish
which may be excluded on grounds o f the actual inreraction a nd which may be
upheld. In general even the most improbable readings should be preserved
unril the appearance of an explicir conrradicrion.
The principie of complete interpretattOII This principie is rooted in rhe
assumption thar everyching that is said has more sense than is acrively perceived. Therefore everyrhing that can in sorne way be determined should be
incorporated into the analysis. This implies t hat 'every parricle, every legi.ble,
audible, visi ble, ta ngible (ultimacely even rastable or s mellahle) elemenr n o
marter how small and inconspicuous musr be explicitly inrerpreted for its
motivaran and musr be firted imo che conrext of the whole' (Oevermann
1996: 112). For pragmaric reasons, however, audiovisual material is norm a lly dispcnsed w irh in favo ur of rra nscribed mater ial, although duc
consideraran is given ro striking inronation patterns, speech rhythms and
similar events.
The principie of economical use of individual hypotheses (economy rttle)
This rule rneans rhat, in rhe sense of the grearest possible contextua! variaran,
everyrhing rhat could rescricr the mulriplicity of readings is omirred. This particularly affecrs the externa! context (see abovc, a nd Oevermann 1996: 99), bur



also so-ca lled individual hyporhcses, since one of the hasic assumptions of this
method is rhat psychology a nd orher features specifi c to an individual are rhe
conscquence of social phenomena (H einzc 1987: 79) .
14.4.1 .2 Procedures

Sequential anal)'StS The sequential-analytical mode of procedurc is of fundamental importance in the methodology of ohjective hermeneutics. lt consists of
breaking clown rhe rexr or material selected for analysis into sma lle r units and
then inrerprering them in sequence. The meanmg possibilities which are thereby
achieved are progressivcly more resrricred during the progress of the analysis
unril rhe srrucrure of a particular case is clear. 'In rhis rhe indi\idualiry of a case
becomes apparent. Ir appears during rhe sequent ial analysis as a successively
construcred interna ! context' (Oevermann eral. 1979: 426). Oevermann et a l.
explain furrhcr:
In the course of sequencial analysis, what we refer toas rhe imernal comext of an
tnteracrive rcxt is constirured with successively mcreasmg concisene>s. In contrasr to che externa! contextua! condirions thar may be funher subdivided imo
rhose which remain unalrered, and rhose which modify themselves for thc course
of che entire scene, thc interna! contexr is a resulr of che inrerpretation of rhe
scene's rexr, and is traceable only through chis text. (1979: 422)

Detailed analysis Breaking down the cexr inro separare sequences is a precondition for rhe decailed analysis, in rhe course of which chere is an excensive
inrerprcrarive pwcedure, beginn ing wirh rhe smallest meaning unirs. H ere, as
many meaning-bearing conrexts as possible are conscrucred for each of rhesc
smallest units. Through the sequence of unics, rhe number of possiblc conrexcs
(or readings) reduces itself during the course of che analysis; in an tdeal case, rhe
number of possibles will be reduced toa single conrexr and in chis way rhe case
ro be analysed may be clearly outlined. Characrcrisrically, a nd in accordance
wirh the underlying principie of che greatest possible contextua! va riaran, for
rhis purpose no advance knowledge of the case rhat would preclude particular
readings is considered in the ana lysis.
Through the analysis a real process of selectiviry and exclusions of oprions
is reconstrucced. This procedure is different from che everyday mode of inrerpreta rion in rhat the a nalysrs dedicare more rime to ir and attempt to take
cognisance o f the options rhat are really possible.

14.4.2 Selecrion of material and units of analysis

For objective hermcneurics, interaction sequences, such as fami ly conve rsarions or public speeches, come into play as primary sources of data.
The true object of che procedures of Objcctive Hermcneutics are records of real,
symbolically rransmitted social actions or inreracrions, be rhey written, acoustic,
visua l, combined in a variety of media or recordable in other ways. The precise






material form of thc record 1s, for the inrcrpretative procedures of Objective
1lermencutics, a purely contingent tcchnical circumsrance, since its interpretability, irrespective of its material form, is bound up in principie with rhe cond1rion of
rhe lmgu,snc rcahzabiiJty or paraphrasabdiry of inreracrive meanings. (OcvermJnn
eral. 1979: 378)

Here it is mostly a quesrion of rranscripts rhat derive from rape-recorded mrcracrions. The procedure has already also been applied ro borh sound and
p1crures of TV broadcasrs, m written passages, and - in contradicrion of rhe
pnnciple of lingmsric reahzarion - ro film posrers and phorographs (Garz &
Kraimer 1994). Wirh such sraric pcrorial marerials ir has, of course, proved
very difficulr ro reahze rhe sequencing.
On rhc basis of rhe rheorerical assumption rhar rhe entire case strucrure is
reproduced in each tndividualunir of interacrion, iris nor necessary ro analyse
rhe complete case-record hut only an extraer (or 'scene') from ir; rhis musr
lead, however, ro a consisrenr case-hypothesis. The developmenr of such a
hyporhesis imposes a mnimum length requirement on rhe extraer. For t he
opening phase of an extraer iris rrue ro say rhar in inreracrion sysrems involving a hisrory (for example familics) rhis is of no panicular sgnificance.Ir is only
in newly emerging sysrems (such as therapeuric 'first conracrs') thar inirial
sequences are imporranr, since the beginning has a particular impact on rhe subsequenr developmenr. '\Y/e are aware, therefore, rhar in a trivial sense in rhc
analysis of inreracrions wirh no previous hisrory, rhe true beginning- rhe opening sequence in Schegloff's rcrms - musr also form rhe beginning of rhe
inreracrion scene ro be analysed' (Oevermann eral. 1979: 434). Orherwise, the
extraer is selecred purely at random. The resulrs from rhis firsr extraer may rhen
be compared wirh rhe analysi~ of furrher exrracrs thar should ideally be in
sorne reconsrrucrable relanonship wirh rhe first one, ro compensare for matrers
of simation-spectfic chance. The procedure does not, however, prescribe a mnimum number of exrracrs ro be analysed.
The principie of sequenrial analysis requires rhat rhe extraer be broken
clown inro individual meaning unirs, in order ro creare rhe precondition for
analysis of rhe interna! conrcxt thar must be considered in rhe producrion of
readings. The size of such sequences is not laid clown in the procedure. In
pracrice ir is decided in such a way as ro give rhe interprerers rhe impression
that they are gaining new informaran about the srructure through rhis new
sequence. But since- on rhc basis of the principie of complete interpretationnorhing happens by chance for objecrive hermeneutics and everyrhing is seen
as srructurally morivared, rhese meaning unirs are normally very shorr, particularly in an inirial phase: sometimes, indeed, rhey consisr merely of
'throat-clearing'. Here is an example of rhe development of such boundaries:

/up to lnow lnobody has ltold me, /Mr. Ambassadorl, ... those /categorized
/under DI and who of course are qualified academic translators/. As already
indicared, rhe unirs- parricularly ar rhe beginning- are very shorr and ofren
only conform ro a grammattcal patternmg into (partial) sentences rowards rhe
end of an extraer.



14.4.3 lncerprecative framework

Wirh objective hermeneurics, in rhc form of sequcntial dcraded analysis, rhc

imerprerer has available a concrete insrrumenr wirh which ro approach a rexr:
rhere is a framework consisring of eighr analyrical levels. Alrhough Ulrich
Oevermann, in recent years, has d1sranced himself firmly from rh1s framework,
irs pracricabiliry as an mrroducrion ro objecrive hermeneuric inrerpreration particular! y for beginners- remams unconrested.
Wirh regard ro rhe status and funcrion of rhis framework, Ocvermann eral.
(1979: 394) srare: '[r is no more rhan a frame for an cxclusivcly qualirarive
descriprive reconsrrucrion of rhe actual urrerances, a kind of "check lisr" for
interprcters rhar should require rhem ro question their material in sufficient
As a rcsult of this there is nothing ro prevent a diffcrenr weighting being
given ro the individual levels of rhe analysis or their conversion 1nro concrete
sreps in the research. E ven if rhesc lcvels are notro be undemood as a rigid classificarion framework, they rcmain sufficiently precise in their formulation ro be
validas rules in the sense used here. In Table 14.1 we ser out rhe eight leveb of
Ocvcrmann eral. (1979) in comparison with rhe concrete reformularions which
we applied in our own cmpirical work. For rhis truncated presentaran we
employ the version of the lcvcls as summarized by Schuster ( 1994: 108-111 ),
who preserves Oevermann's original wording. Subsequenrly we shall address
rhe problem of the comparihilirr of rhe original with our n:formularion, and
draw attenrion ro possible diffcrcnces.
Levels 1, 2 and 4 of Oevcrmann et al. correspond ro rhe concrete: formularions wirh the same numhers. As may be seen in Table 14.1, point 3 of our
reformularion covers, in broad outlinc:, severallevels- namdy 3, 5 and 7. In
this case the following resrricnons apply ro any comparison:

1 The subdivision of poinr 3 in our concrete realization entails that the italicized secrions of rhe lefr-hand column can only be undersrood in a
condicional way as counters ro the levels given in rhe right-hand column.
2 The quesrion of summari,:ing lines of interpretarion and evaluating alrernative readings against each other (which occurs undcr level 7 in
Oevermann eral.) is not treared separately ar any poinr in our reformulation. We ha ve considered this aspecr of inrerprerative work as a single entity
which is inherent in the sequential analytical procedure and rherefore permanenrly present. Accordingly rhere is lirrle or no correspondence in rhe
case of leve! 6 of rhe righr-hand column.
On the matter of rhe comparihiliry of levels O and 5, ir must be borne in mind
rhar rhe numbering in borh rhe lcfr-hand and right-hand columns represenrs a
non-obligarory but parrially required ordering of rhe ind1vidual srages in an
invesrigarion. The identificarion of a new meaning unir, rherefore, marks rhe
bc:ginning of an inrerprerarive cycle. The primary imporrance of rhis step in rhe
sequemial analytical mode les in irs experimental aspecr. In rhe flfth srage of



Table 14. 1

lnterpretative levels of OH and concrete analytical questions


Five concrete research steps2

Eight levels of

1 How can the m eaning unit be transformed in the

understanding of the investigator?
How can the unit normally be understood, what
meaning would a 'normal' reader/listener attribute
to it? How can the statement be paraphrased
(rewritten, freely transformad, clarified)?

Level 1
Paraphrasing of all meanings of a unit
according to the wording of the
accompanying verbalization.

2 What does the person speaking w ish to present

or evoke in a listener through this statement, and
what could be his/her intentions?
lf one takes on the role of the actor: what meaning
could the uni t have for this person? What intention
is probably being pursued? What would be an
acceptable interpretation for this person?

Explication of the intention of the
interacting subject.

3 (1) What hidden factors could underlie the unit

and what could be the object ive consequences for
modes of action and thought or for the system?
How el se could the text be read - from the
viewpoint of a non-partici pan! third person?
What is the result of reading with different emphases?

Level 3
Explication of the objective motives of
the unit and of the objective
consequences: i.e. objective changes in
the systemic conditions within the
framework of the interactiva process.

3 12) What do the following mean?

The grammatical form used !active, passive,
conditional, etc.)?
The themes and {groups ofl persons mentioned?
The linguistic peculiarities (slips, breakdowns, use
and misuse of words)?
The self-evident and generalizad matters that occur?
What might the meaning of the unit relate to?

Level 5
Characterization of the linguistic
fea tu res of the unit: identification of
distinctive features at the syntactic,
semantic and pragmatic levels.

3 13) What el se might the statement m ean in

difieren! social circumstances?

Level 7
Expl ication of general relations and
structures, particularly to do with
socia lization t heory.

our reformu lanon, therefore, on the basis of a succcssful tnterpretation,

assumptions are rnade 'blind' about a plausible continuation of the tcxt and
these are subsequently measured againsr the actual continuation. The procedure
in leve! O differs in essence on ly in the sense that this does not happen 'blind ',
that is without taking cognisance of the actual continuarion of rhe rexr.

14.4.4 Readings and interpretations

4 What role distribution arises from the unit?
What relations and attributions to persons are given Explication of the function of the unit in
the distribution of interactiva roles.
(even when not directly named) or could be
involved in the text? What can be said (in
interviews) about the relationship between
interviewer and interviewee?
5 What options are available for the next meaning
How will it go on? What arguments can be
expected? What are importan! connection points in
the text?


Level O
Explication of the context imrnediately
preceding an interactiva unit and the
systemic condition of the unit in
Extrapolation of the interpretation of the
unit on to recurrent communicative
figures: relational aspects or personality
fe atures that transcend the situation.

lo relation ro the producrion of read tngs, the cr iterion of comparibiliry is decisive. This rcquires nothing more than rhat the in vestigated u trerances a r e
surroundcd by con rexts in the forrn of stor ies that creare sorne rneaning. In
objecrive hermeneutics the invesrigaror proceeds on the general assumption
rh ar the question o f rhe compatibiliry of a reading can be clarified
Within the compatible readings che following distincrion is made: 'H ere
there are a) those that are forced by a marking that is readable, visible, perceptible or audible within a texr, and b) those that are optionally added by an
interprerer a nd of w hich it may be said that their assertion m ay, but does not
have ro, ind icare sorne fact' (Ocvcrmann 1996: 103). Read ings of che second
category presenta nurnber of unresolvable pres umptions about alrernative possibilities. Whar cannot be resolved, however, is unproducrive in rhis form of
ana lysis. Such readings, moreover, ha ve a suggescive potential that distracts rhe
analysis from the more pressing possible meanings of a texr and should therefore be avoided.
The producriveness of objective herrncneutic interpretarion is crucia lly
dependenr on che appropriate use of contextua! knowledge. T he rnethod (as a
Kunstlehre ) in dicares ro rhe analysts how rhey should use the conrexrual knowledge tha r is availa ble ro thern. In rh is respect a d istinccion mus t be made
berween the process of 'd iscovery' and justifying the 'validi ry' of a reading. The
use, cherefore, 'of theorecical approaches that are as explicit as possible' (see
Oevermann et al. 1979: 392) is seen as highly desirable so long as such theories
do not run counrer ro general everyday knowledge. This applies ro che discovery procedure, whereas c hecking rhe validity of a reading is dererm ined
exclusivcly by t~e so-ca lled meaning-generating rules. This means thar concrete
examplcs of com exrs derived fro m the readings are used ro decide o n the possibi lity of rhe occu rrence o f suc h conrexrs . If we reduce it ro a formu la,
Oeverrna nn 's req uiremen t runs as foll ows: 'Use everyching thar is useful or
helpful in the discovery of readings that are compatible with a textual extraer,
and beware of using informarion about the externa! conrexr of a recorded
evem ro decide on the validiry of readings cha r are compatible wirh the text'
(Oevermann 1996: 101).
The knowledge we have a lluded to about the acn1al conrext can only be
taken into accounr after the fullest possible inrerpretarion of a textual sequence.
Otherwise access to la rent mea ning-srructures would be rendered impossible by
the limiratio n of compatible readings to those that are in accorda nce wi rh this



conrexrual knowlcdge. Any conrravenrion of this would mean, as a conscquence, that noth1ng ncw could be discovcrcd and rhat interpretaran would
become circular.



Beca use in objecrive hermeneurics rhe larenr meaning-srructures are revealed as

rhe resulr of inruitive judgemenrs of appropriareness on rhe part of rhe interpreters, sorne srarement must be made abour rhe relationship, wirhin rhis
procedure, berween rhc rypes of reprcsenrarion developed and rhe underlying
reality. Does ir reveal whar ir inrcnds ro reveal? On rhe basis of an ep isremological circular argumcnr 1t is claimed rhar ir is inconclusive and therefore
meaningless. From th1s Ocvermann et al. conclude pragmarically:
lf in a theorcncal sense precautions can be taken rhat help, in a practica! way, ro
guarantee rhe perfcwon of rhis intuitivc powcr of judgemenr, we no longer need
ro make explicit che rules rhlt constitute rhis competence as a rheorerical precondirion for rhe valtdiry of an objecrive hermeneuric intcrpreration, wirhout thercby
limiring the falsifiabiliry of che meanmg-reconstrucrions. ( 1979: 388)
These precautions follow the rhree facrors rhar necessarily resrricr rhe everyday
undersranding of meaning. First rhere is rhe rime factor, which leads ro rhe
requiremenr for a reducrion of rime pressure on rhe pan of rhe inrerprerers.
Then rhe inruirive power of judgemenr should nor he roo 'neurorically
resrricred' (Oevermann eral. 1979: 393) or neurralized by a group inrerprerarion, when rhe readings produced in rhe group should be consranrly examined.
Finally rhere is rhe requiremenr for rhe implementarion of more than one t heorerical approach, 111 order ro avoid everyday characreriza ri ons in rhe
As for the effect of the knowledge achieved rhrough objecrive hermeneurics,
particularly in sociahzarion theory, Oevermann et al. ( 1979: 402) assume 'rhat
the empirical validiry of general conceprs in socialization rheory can be measured by rhc cxrent to which individual units of inreracrion, or a series of such
unirs, may be fitted unambiguously inw irs general definitions'. Theories ami
their concepts, in rhis inrerprerarion, have ro prove rhemselves as suitable in
concrete cases of analy~is. Oeverman n er al. ( 1979) rejecr rhe rolera ring of
individual cases in which an unambiguous fir is impossible. In their opinion rhe
emprica! validiry of conceprs in a rheory affecred by rhis type of incomparibility is called inro quesrion.
As an accessible escape roure in such a problem siruarion rhey propose, wirh
relevanr examples, rhar: (a) rhe theorerical basis of rhe faulry conceprs should be
modified, or the conceprs rhemselves should be redefined; and/or (b) addirional
validity condirions should be inrroduced. In rhis way a straregy is proposed
which would free rhe analysr from having ro pursue a scienrifically orienred and
rigid norion of falsificarion.



\Y/e have already menrioned, from orher viewpoinrs, particular precondirions

which affecr rhe analysrs rhemselves and the use of knowledge in applying the
merhod. To complete rhe picrure we shall now address the quesrion of the necessary qua liry of rhe (recorded) material.
As far as arcas of application are concerned rhere are no resrrictions, in rhe
sense thar objecnve hermeneutics irseli claims rhar in pnnciple any recordmgs
of social inreracnon may be used as source material. That is ro say, textual and
audio and visual material may all be used in addition ro vanous combinanons
of recorded material. The fundamental requiremenr of rhe method in this
respecr concerns the capabiliry of rhe data ro be pur inro sorne sequence, wh1ch
is harder ro conrrive with non-sequential visual material (such as phorographs).
\~e musr loo k separare! y at observations, which Oevermann er al. ( 1979:
428) require 'musr be made as extensively and fairhfully ro rea liry as possi ble,
in uther wurds ar rhe leve! of good qualiry sound-recordings'. This requiremenr
for 'literal' observaran records is undersrandable if une keeps in mine! thar data
which- as is normal for observation- depend on particular framcwurks uf categories and meaning parrerns impede access ro latenr meaning-srrucrures.
ln spire of rhis general openness concerning the form of rhe data marena l ro
be analysed, objecrive hermeneurics makes predominant use of carefully transcribed sound recordings.



Objecrive hcrmeneurics 1s distinguished from orher reconstruct ive procedures

primanly through irs assumprion of larency. This providcs rhe mosr suirable
basis for comparison.
Even if objecrivc hermeneurics does nor view subjective inrentions purely as
a soulless reflection of social strucrures, ir does clearly disringuish irself from
social-phenomenologically orienred methods rhat seek ro promorc individual
meaning panerns as 'srructuring, orientational and rypificarion processes'
(Marthiesen 1. 994: 81). I n rhese kinds of ana lyses objecrivc social srrucrure, in
rhe shape of milieu and environmenr, is conceptualized as a marginal condirion
which contrasrs srrongly wirh rhe way in which objecrive hermeneurics handles
Ohjecrive Hermenemics - unlike convencional hermeneur1cs as dcveloped by
Habermas for che social sc1ences- no longer deals solelr w1 rh onenrarions rransmmed via rhe psyche and w1th rhe psychically unconsc1ous. Rarher it clams to
elaborare the soc1ally unconscious - i.e. larenr' social meanmg srrucrures.
(Bohnsack 1991: 68)



A furrher compara ti ve dunenswn derives from rhe s tricr separaran of externa!

and interna! conrexr, as underraken by objecrive hermeneutics. (The basis of
this is rhe sequenrial analyt1cal procedure and rhe economy rule.) The 'classical
hermeneuricisrs', in arder ro discover rhe meaning of rhe individua l segmenr,
irrespecrive of its posirion, invoke informaran from rhe complete rexr and also
employ conrexrual informaran ro a differenr exrent.
As for the directions for (a) rhe approach ro the material ro be invesrigated,
and (b) the invesrigation of the material irself, rhe merhod provides highly
developed guidelines. Thc srcps ro be followed for discovering the latenr
meaning-strucrures are rherefore laid down for rhe user. This sets objecrive
hermeneurics aparr from all those supposed 'merhods' rhar provide only one
prescribed framework- normally from a special perspecrive- wirhin which
rhe researcher can frccly operare. Trus also means, however, thar the operari o nalizarion of relevanr conceprs, rhar is rhe approach ro rhe material,
depends more or less upon intui rion. The inrelligibiliry and comparabiliry of
resulrs are burdened by rhis, cven if rhe freedom of interpretarion ir allows
cannot, a priori, be negarively evaluared. From rhis compararive viewpoint rhe
erhnomerhodologically orienred merhods, or rhose collecrively sry led 'discourse analysis', may primarily be seen as polar opposires ro objecnve
Whcn compared ro conrenr analysis procedures (such as SYMLOG) which
analyse a rext wirh rhe help of a preordaincd framework of caregories, objecrive
hermeneurics srands out by virtue of irs requiremcnr for an analysis in rhe 'language of the case'. A contravenrion of thi s principie would lead ro a
recon~truction of rhc preconce1ved opinions of the inrerpreters rather than a
reconstruction of the larenr meaning.

21 1

Oevermann, Ulrich (1983), 'Zur Sache. Ote Bedeutung von Adorno~ methodologischem Sclbst,crsrandnis fr die Begrundung cincr marerialen soziologtschen
Strukturanalyse', in Ludwig von Friedeburg & jrgen Habermas (eds), Adorno
Konferem: 198]. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 234-89.


14.9.1 Handbooks

Lamnek, Siegfried ( 1989), Qualitatwe Soalforschung, vol. 2: Methoden und

Techniken. Miinchen: Psychologie-Verlags-Union, 213-32.
H eckmann, Friedrich (1992), 'lnterpretarionsregeln zur Auswertung qualitativer
lnrerviews und sozialwissenschaftlich rclevanter "Texte". Anwendungen der
Hermeneunk fur d1c empiri~che Sozialforschung, in Jrgen H. P. HoffmeyerZlornik (ed. ), Analyse verbaler Daten. OpiJden: Westdeutscher Verlag, l42-67.
Reichertz, Jo ( l995), 'Die objektive Hermeneutik- Darstellung und Knrik', in
Eckhard Knig & Pcter Zedler (eds ), Bilanz qualrtativer Forsclmng, vol. Il:
Methoden. Wcinheim: Deutscher Studienverlag, 379-423.

14.9.2 Other presentations of method

Bobnsack, Ralf (1991), Rekonstruktne Soz;ialforschrmg. Emfiilmmg in

Metbodologre und Praxis qualitatwer Forsclumg. Opladen: Leske, 66-81.
Garz, Dctlef & Kraimer, Klaus (eds) (1994), Dze \Velt als Text. Theorie, Kntrk
und Praxis der obektiven Hermeneutik. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.


Ocvermann, Ulrich, Allerr, T., Konau, E. & Krambeck, J. (1979), 'D1e

.Methodologie einer "obektiven H ermeneu tik" und ihrc allgememe forschungslogsche Bedeutung in den Soz1alwissenschaften, in Hans-Georg Soeffner (ed.),
Imerpretattve Verfahren in den Sozial- und Textwissenschaften. Sturrgarr: Mctzlcr,
Oevermann, Ulrich, Allert, T., Konau, E. & Krambeck, J. (1983), 'Die
Methodologie der objektiven Hcrmcneutik', in Peter Zcdler & Heinz Moser (cds),
Aspekte qualitatwer Soalforschung. Studren zrt Aktionsforschung, empirischer
Hermeneutik rmd reflexrver Soz;ralteclmologre. Opladen: Westdeurscher Verlag,
Oevermann, Ulrich (1993), 'Die objektive Hermeneurik als unverzichtbarc
methodologische Grundlage fr die Analyse von Subekriviriit. Zugleich cine
Kritik der Tiefenhermencunk', in Thomas Jung & Stcfan Mller-Doohm (eds),
'\Virklichkeit' im Deutungsproze/5. Verstehen in den Kultur- und
Sozralwissenschaften. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 106-89.

Heinze, Thomas ( L987), Qualztattve Sozialforsclumg: Erfalmmgen, Probleme

und Perspektiven. Opladen: Westdeutscher Vcrlag, 75-96.
Schuster, Gudrun (1994), 'Die objektive Hermeneurik nach Oevermann', in
Arbeitskreis Qualnative Sozialforschung (ed. ), Verfiihrung z;um qualitativen
Forschen. Wien: WUV-Universiriirsverlag, 10 1-1 5.

14.9.3 Sample applications

Hildenbrand, Bruno & Jahn, Walter (1988), Gemeinsames Erziihlen" und

Prozesse der Wirkhchkcitskonstruktion in familiengeschichthchen Gespriichen',
Zeitschrift {ir Sozrologie, 17: 203-17.
Mathes, Rainer ( 1992), 'Hermeneurisch-klassifikatorische Inhaltsana lyse von
Leitfadengesprachen. ber das Verhalrnis von quantitativen und qualitativen
Verfahren der Textanalyse und dte Moglichkeit ihrer Kombination', in J li rgen H.
P. Hoffmeyer-Ziotn ik (ed.), Analyse verbaler Date11. Opladen: Westdcutscher
Verlag, 402-24.




Oevermann, Ulrich (1996), 'Bcckerrs "Endsp1cl" als Prufsrem hcrmeneut1scher

Merhodologic. Eine lntcrprerarion mit den Verfahren der objekriven Hermeneutik
(Odcr: Ein objektiv-hermeneurisches Exertitium)', in Hans-Dieter Konig (ed.),

Neue Versuche, Becketts Fndspzel zu verstehen. Sovaltuissenscha(tlzches

lnterpretzeren nach Adorno. frankfurr: Suhrkamp, 93-249.


Overview and Comparison


)'O() PtiN*-. 77/ 'Tlt~NJCII!i./'n't)A/ AllOJJ' 7lJ /lC J'o r;ccci.Je

1.11:" ~e to,-~N 77:> ..rcc.cc-r oor n:xr.J" iN 'T'Hi.J' JvA)' ~ ..


This chaprer is based on a German paper wrirren by Karl Berger, Thomas

Gamperl and G1sela I-lagma1r.
2 This framework of concrete research sreps was developed by Stefan Tirscher.
3 Oevermann eral. (1979: 395-402) in rhe summary given in Schusrer (1994: