Epistemic Cultures in Sociology Between Individual Inspiration and Legitimization by Procedure: Developments of Qualitative and Interpretive Research in German and French Sociology Since the 1960s

  • Reiner Keller Universität Augsburg
  • Angelika Poferl Hochschule Fulda
Keywords: epistemic culture, sociology, qualitative methods, interpretive methods, Germany, France, country comparison, research, reflexivity, history of sociology


How do sociologists know what they know? Although sociology around the world is deeply shaped by processes of internationalization and shares many common points of reference, strong regional, linguistic and cultural differences persist. This concerns the general production of knowledge, applied theories, and methods as well as questions posed. In this contribution, we discuss the development of and differences inherent in epistemic cultures in qualitative and interpretive research in French and German sociology since the 1960s, drawing our observations from a document- and interview-based research project we directed from 2012-2014. Epistemic cultures are conceived as the forms, ways and practices of producing and legitimizing scientific (sociological) "output" involved in sociological knowledge-making. The production of knowledge is the core "action problem" that sociological inquiry confronts. This problem is addressed in rather different ways. Overall, French qualitative sociology tends to place trust in researchers' skills, competencies and inspirations in order to establish new knowledge. German qualitative and interpretive sociology prefers to establish legitimacy by focusing on well-defined procedures. We illustrate the unfolding of this difference between French- and German-based qualitative sociology in the early 1960s and discuss how it shapes their further development. In doing so, we intend to contribute to the current reflexive movement in sociology.


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Author Biographies

Reiner Keller, Universität Augsburg

Prof. Dr. Reiner KELLER ist Professor für Soziologie an der Universität Augsburg. Seine Arbeitsgebiete umfassen Wissens- und Kultursoziologie, Diskursforschung, Soziologie der Naturverhältnisse, soziologische Theorie, interpretative Methoden, französische Soziologie.

Angelika Poferl, Hochschule Fulda

Prof. Dr. Angelika POFERL ist Professorin für Soziologie mit Schwerpunkt Globalisierung an der Hochschule Fulda. Ihre Arbeitsgebiete umfassen Globalisierungstheorie und -forschung, Transformationen der Moderne, Wissens- und Kultursoziologie, interpretative Sozialforschung.

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