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Interpretivist Research - The Contribution of Dooyeweerd

In 1999 Heinz Klein & Michael Myers published what was to become a classic paper 'A Set of Principles for Conducting and Evaluating Interpretive Field Studies in Information Systems'. In interpretive research, the emphasis is not on testing hypotheses for truth, but in applying theoretical lenses or frameworks to see what insight they bring. Testing hypotheses for truth is the role of positivist research, which emphasises causality, while 'testing' theoretical lenses for the ability to generate insight is the role of interpretivist research, which emphasises meaning. Gaining broad insight is especially important in interdisciplinary research.

Unfortunately, much interpretivist research became lax and too subject to much influenced by the beliefs and preferences of the researcher, and there was a recognised need to establish principles for interpretivist research. Heinz Klein & Michael Myers did this by reviewing what good practice had accumulated in the sociological research surrounding information systems. They came out with seven principles [with an attempt to couch them in layperson's language]:

This page discusses

How Dooyeweerd Might Help

The following table summarises how and why Dooyeweerd might help in each principle. Links are made to where various issues can be understood better.

Overview of How Dooyeweerd Might Help Fulfil Principles of Interpretive Research
Principle Summary Basis of Dooyeweerdian Help How Dooyeweerd Might Help
Hermeneutic Circle Interdependent meaning of parts and whole 1. All that occurs is a functioning in all aspects, which are spheres of meaning.
2. Both the grand whole and the tiny detail revealed by the participants exist and occur within the diverse framework of meaningfulness that is the aspects. 3. All theoretical thought depends on presuppositions about the origin of meaning.
1. Having openly obtained 'data' from the participants, use aspects to analyse the 'everyday' pre-theoretical diversity of meaningfulness therein. (Almost as a checklist.)
2. Think always of meaningfulness, even more than of things, systems, processes, causes, etc.
3. Be always aware that both you (researcher) and the participants you study presuppose certain ways in which life and experience are meaningful. These might differ, but Dooyeweerd's aspects claim to be common to you both.
Contextualization See how the current situation under investigation emerged 1. All situations come about by all entities functioning in all aspects.
2. Many situations involve functioning together in post-social aspects, which depend foundationally on the social and lingual aspects.
3. Coming-into-being of situations is linked with Dooyeweerd's notion of cosmic time.
1. Rather than (or as well as) looking for the 'significant' activities of those actors you think are important, look for the functioning of all together each aspect: Example: "What is the functioning in the pistic (faith) aspect that led up to this?"
2. Having obtained a picture of functioning in each aspect, ask yourself how each depends on earlier aspects; that might stimulate fresh insights not immediately apparent from the participants. Check with participants whether this might be meaningful.
3. If time is dynamic actuality, then time exhibits all the aspects; be open to them.
Interaction between the Researchers and the Subjects 'Data' are socially constructed by the researchers and participants together 1. Data comes from the researcher's analytical functioning focusing on certain aspects of the studied situation.
2. Which aspect(s) the researcher focuses on depends on the interaction between them and participants.
3. All aspects are important (the Shalom Principle.
1. Let the participant reveal the aspects that are of interest to them
2. Important for the researcher to be a person of empathy, and one who is willing to recognise the important of every aspect that the participant might reveal.
3. Seek to cover all aspects over the course of the conversation with the participant. This might involve stimulation after a time, inquiring of them whether aspects they have ignored might also be relevant; often they say "Yes, I took that for granted", "Yes, but I thought that would be irrelevant to you" or even "Yes, but that's an embarrassing issue". (See Kane's MAIT). Winfield's MAKE provide a systematic way to do this.
Abstraction and Generalization Relate idiographic details to theoretical general concepts. 1. Idiographic (unique, individual) details and general concepts are two sides of reality, which Dooyeweerd called fact side and law side respectively. The general is only found on the law side (which contains the aspects), but is expressed in the fact side (the actual occurrences). Most thinkers fail to recognise that the two sides are distinct, and try to reduce one to the other, but Dooyeweerd recognises both and discussed the relationship between them.
2. Both individual details and theoretical generality are concepts, but of different kinds. Individual details occur by analytical functioning that distinguishes one thing from another and forms a concept of it. Clouser calls that 'lower abstraction', in which we are aware of aspects of things. General theoretical concepts involve 'higher abstraction', in which we abstract the aspect away from things to generalise. This is a version of Dooyeweerd's transcendental critique.
1. It is helpful to maintain awareness that generalities are not to be located in, or emerge from, the fact side, but that the fact side (the revealed data) is an expression of the aspects of the law side.
2. Be aware of what you are doing when generalising, in focusing on spheres of meaning, taking responsibility for harmonising rationalities, and discussing in terms of what is meaningful.
Dialogical Reasoning Possible contradictions between researcher's theoretical preconceptions and actual findings 1. Researcher approaches the situation to be studied with a preconception of what is meaningful, which is in turn usually influenced by what the research community finds meningful, combined with an expectation of how to find new meaningful things. The preconception and expectation are influenced by what is presupposed to be the origin of meaning.
2. But what is actually meaningful might not be fully exhausted in the preconception and expectation. In interpretivist and critical social research especially, these tend to be dictated by the dialectical nature-freedom ground-motive. Such dialectical ground-motives are not truths not presuppositions, and fail to do justice to everyday pre-theoretical experience, even though most research is constrained by them.
1. Be aware of what the community believes to be meaningful and, especially, which aspects they overlook.
2. Be aware of the dialectic that swings between nature and freedom in today's research, and try to go beyond it to the everyday experience of the participants.
Multiple Interpretations Differences in interpretations among the participants 1. To each person things are meaningful in different ways, for example one person might find the economic aspect most important, while another might emphasise social relationships.
2. However not only does each participant have a different interpretation, but, because of human functioning is multi-aspectual, each participant finds each thing meaningful in different ways. Example: the winner of a race might reveal the pistic benefit at one time, then the economic benefit at another. Multiple meanings within the one person is something that Klein & Myers have overlooked, but which aspects can help reveal.
1. It can be useful to analyse by drawing up aspectual profiles for each participant - perhaps expressed as a bar chart of degree to which each finds each aspect important. Multiple interpretations then become very visible.
2. Expect everything that the participant reveals to be meaningful in every aspect (though usually most are latent). Some such ways of being meaningful will seem hidden or tacit. Hawa Ahmad has investigated how to analyse this in 'down to earth' issues of IS use.
Suspicion Possible 'biases' and systematic 'distortions' by particpants 1. People, when expressing what is meaningful, tend to focus on what they find most meaningful at the time, or what they expect the researcher to want to hear. So they tend to overlook certain aspects, which might be embarrassing or even just taken for granted, maybe as tacit knowledge. 1. Use Kane's MAIT, which is good at overcoming those biases. Also, Winfield's MAKE is good at explicating some tacit knowledge.

The above has yet to be written up for publication; if you wish to do this, please feel free, in case I cannot do so. Further study:

Whether Dooyeweerd is Commensurable with Interpretivism

Some Dooyeweerdian thinkers might assume that Dooyeweerd cannot fit interpretivist thought because the latter is nomimalist and social constructivist. I think they are wrong. Partly because Dooyeweerd himself distanced himself from realism (though also from nominalism). But mainly humanity's knowledge of reality is socially constructed, and also the ontic structure of the fact side of post-social reality is socially constructed through functioning in the post-social aspects. Interpretivist research is a recognition that human theoretical activity (such as research) is never absolute, but always grounded in an origin of meaning (see Dooyeweerd's transcendental critique of theoretical thought.

See also a comparison between Dooyeweerd's ideas and social construction as found in Berger & Luckmann [1967].

See Basden [2011] for a published partial discussion of this.


Basden A. (2011). Enabling a Kleinian integration of interpretivist and critical-social IS research: The contribution of Dooyeweerd's philosophy. European Journal of Information Systems. 20, 477-489.

Berger, P., Luckmann, T. (1967). The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. Penguin Books.

Klein, H. K. and Michael D. Myers. (1999) "A Set of Principles for Conducting and Evaluating Interpretive Field Studies in Information Systems", MIS Quarterly 23(1):67-93.

This page is part of a collection that discusses application of Herman Dooyeweerd's ideas, within The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Email questions or comments would be welcome.

Written on the Amiga and Protext.

Compiled by (c) 2012 Andrew Basden. You may use this material subject to conditions.

Created: 7 August 2012 Last updated: