A meta-analysis of the process of interpretation.
The present study is part of a larger project currently in progress, which addresses the interface between epistemology and method. The work of the philosophers Paul Ricoeur, Hans-Georg Gadamer and Jurgen Habermas constitute secondary sources in the master project which is focussed on the process of discovery in the works of Darwin, Marx and Freud. The specific aim of the present study may be stated as an attempt to explicate the conditions which make possible the interpretation of meaningful human action; this endeavour is approached by means of a critical investigation of Ricoeur's theory of, and methodological proposals for, the interpretation of action. Ricoeur's central thesis for the social sciences is that a literary text is analogous to the object of these sciences, namely meaningful human action. The validity of this analogy for the discipline of socio-psychology is investigated in the present study in terms of the primary dialectic which Ricoeur proposes between 'distanciation' and 'appropriation'. Thus Ricoeur's hermeneutical theory serves as the main data base in the present study. Other data bases include video-recordings of mother-child transactions during problem solving tasks (in this sense the tasks represent, for the dyad, an object of interpretation); the transcript of a discussion between the author and a mother who also formed part of a problem-solving dyad; and the transcript of a discussion between four analysts engaged in the process of interpreting mother-child dyads during their engagement in problem-solving activity. Ricoeur's proposals for the interpretation of action are applied to the above data bases and the outcome is presented and discussed. While Ricoeur's theory provides certain methodological insights, particular problems are encountered with regard to the application of the theory to socio-psychological data. These problems focus on the role of an actor's intentions in the process of the interpretation of action and on the relevance of the socio-historical circumstances. in which the action investigated is produced, and in which the interpretative act proceeds. In concluding the project, proposals for a theory-method of the interpretation of action are presented in which Ricoeur's methodological proposals and the conclusions reached in the present study, are integrated.