• Offered by School of Politics and International Relations
  • ANU College ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences
  • Course subject Political Science
  • Academic career UGRD
  • Course convener
    • Dr April Biccum
    • Dr Nick Cheesman
  • Mode of delivery In Person
  • Offered in First Semester 2021
    See Future Offerings

Interpretivism is an approach to inquiry that has evolved in the social Sciences from the late 19thCentury.  It is an approach that begins with the empirical observation that societies are constructed out of human capacity to communicate and therefore orients its inquiry toward human beings as meaning makers situated within ‘webs of signification’. Interpretivist modes of inquiry have found a ‘natural’ home within disciplines dealing with social structure (such as sociology), disciplines confronting different cultures (such as anthropology) and disciplines whose data set tends to be textual, at least historically (such as the humanities and history).  Interpretivist scholarship has also developed in conversation with (and sometimes in debate with) more dominant approaches in the social sciences often referred to as ‘positivism’.  The disciplines of Political Science and International Relations have been late comers to these developments but since the end of the cold war constructivist approaches have become part of the mainstream in International Relations and Political Science has recognised the importance of textual data in a world dominated by the use (and sometimes abuse) of Information Communications Technology.  Scholars in the US and Europe have begun consolidating this long and rich tradition under the umbrella “Interpretive Social Science” as an approach to inquiry that focuses on language, meaning and communication. This course introduces students to this tradition beginning with Peter Berger & Thomas Luckmann’s (1966) The Social Construction of Reality.  The course is designed to get students ‘thinking interpretively’ through a series of short practicum exercises that alert students to the ways that communications and meaning structure our societies and engage them in analytical exercised designed to demonstrate the complexity of hermeneutical and other varieties of interpretive analysis, as well as encourage them to think about the methodological advantages and complexities of interpretive research.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion, students will have the knowledge and skills to:

  1. understand and identify the differences between interpretivist approaches and other approaches to knowledge production and inquiry;
  2. conceptualise research design from an interpretive perspective, including the interpretive approach to theory, analysis and data;
  3. develop techniques and skills appropriate to the design and conduct of interpretivist research;
  4. conceptualise methodological problems and apply tools to critically analyse data from within an interpretive frame; and
  5. communicate effectively and demonstrate analytic ability in interpretivist research design and modes of inquiry.

Indicative Assessment

  1. Class Participation (10) [LO 1,2,3,4]
  2. Practicum Activities - 6 short observation, writing and analysis activities that range in length from 500 to 1000 words over the course of the semester (50) [LO 1,2,3,4,5]
  3. Final Exam during normal examination period (multiple choice) (40) [LO 1,2,4]

The ANU uses Turnitin to enhance student citation and referencing techniques, and to assess assignment submissions as a component of the University's approach to managing Academic Integrity. While the use of Turnitin is not mandatory, the ANU highly recommends Turnitin is used by both teaching staff and students. For additional information regarding Turnitin please visit the ANU Online website.


130 Hours of total student learning time made up from:

a) 36 hours of contact over 12 weeks: 24 hours of lectures and 12 hours of workshop and workshop-like activities; and

b) 94 hours of independent student research, reading and writing

Inherent Requirements

Not applicable

Prescribed Texts

Fairclough, N. (2013). "Critical Discourse Analysis and Critical Policy Studies." Critical Policy Studies7(3): 177-197.


Wodak, R. (2009). The Discourse of Politics in Action. London, Palgrave MacMillan.

Wodak, R., et al. (1999). The Discursive Construction of Austrian National Identity. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press.


Dryzek, J. S. and S. Niemery (2008). "Discursive Representation." APSR102(4): 481-493.


Schaffer, F. C. (2016). Elucidating Social Science Concepts: An Interpretivist Guide. London & New York, Routledge.


Yanow, D. (2006). How Built Spaces Mean. Interpretation and Method. D. Yanow and P. Schwartz-Shea, ME Sharpe.

Pachirat, T. (2009). The Political in Political Ethnography: Dispatches from the Kill Floor. Political Ethnography: What Immersion Contributes to the Study of Power. E. Schatz. Chicago, Universit of Chicago Press.


Epstein, C. (2008). The Power of Words in International Relations: Birth of an Anti-Whaling Discourse. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.


Howarth, D. (2009). "Power, Discourse and Policy: Articulating a Hegemony Approach to Critical Policy Studies." Critical Policy Studies3(3-4): 309-335.

            Wedeen, L. (2010). "Reflections on Ethnographic Work in Political Science." Annual Review of Political Science13: 255-272.


Yanow, D. and P. Schwartz-Shea, Eds. (2006). Interpretation and Method. New York, M.E. Sharpe.


Yanow, D. and P. Schwartz-Shea (2012). Interpretive Research Design: Concepts and Processes. New York, Routledge.


Lynch, C. (2016). Interpreting International Politics. New York, Routledge.


Fischer, F. (2003). Reframing Public Policy: Discursive Politics and Deliberative Practices. Oxford, Oxford University Press.


Bevir, M. (2000). "The Role of Contexts in Understanding and Explanation." Human Studies23(4): 395-411.


Geertz, C. and G. Marcus (2010). Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. Berkeley, University of California Press.

Yanow, D. and P. Schwartz-Shea, Eds. (2006). Interpretation and Method. New York, M.E. SharpeYanow, D. (1996). How Does a Policy Mean? Interpreting Policy and Organisational Actions. Washington D.C., Georgetown University Press.


Tuition fees are for the academic year indicated at the top of the page.  

Commonwealth Support (CSP) Students
If you have been offered a Commonwealth supported place, your fees are set by the Australian Government for each course. At ANU 1 EFTSL is 48 units (normally 8 x 6-unit courses). More information about your student contribution amount for each course at Fees

Student Contribution Band:
Unit value:
6 units

If you are a domestic graduate coursework student with a Domestic Tuition Fee (DTF) place or international student you will be required to pay course tuition fees (see below). Course tuition fees are indexed annually. Further information for domestic and international students about tuition and other fees can be found at Fees.

Where there is a unit range displayed for this course, not all unit options below may be available.

6.00 0.12500
Domestic fee paying students
Year Fee
2021 $3900
International fee paying students
Year Fee
2021 $5580
Note: Please note that fee information is for current year only.

Offerings, Dates and Class Summary Links

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Class summaries, if available, can be accessed by clicking on the View link for the relevant class number.

First Semester

Class number Class start date Last day to enrol Census date Class end date Mode Of Delivery Class Summary
4173 22 Feb 2021 01 Mar 2021 31 Mar 2021 28 May 2021 In Person N/A

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