• Class Number 3668
  • Term Code 3330
  • Class Info
  • Unit Value 6 units
  • Mode of Delivery In Person
    • Dr Nick Cheesman
    • Dr April Biccum
  • Class Dates
  • Class Start Date 20/02/2023
  • Class End Date 26/05/2023
  • Census Date 31/03/2023
  • Last Date to Enrol 27/02/2023
    • William Howe
SELT Survey Results

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.

Whether you are on campus or studying remotely, there are a variety of online platforms you will use to participate in your study program. These could include videos for lectures and other instruction, two-way video conferencing for interactive learning, email and other messaging tools for communication, interactive web apps for formative and collaborative activities, print and/or photo/scan for handwritten work and drawings, and home-based assessment.

ANU outlines recommended student system requirements to ensure you are able to participate fully in your learning. Other information is also available about the various Learning Platforms you may use.

Staff Feedback

Students will be given feedback in the following forms in this course:

  • written comments
  • verbal comments
  • feedback to whole class, groups, individuals, focus group etc

Student Feedback

ANU is committed to the demonstration of educational excellence and regularly seeks feedback from students. Students are encouraged to offer feedback directly to their Course Convener or through their College and Course representatives (if applicable). Feedback can also be provided to Course Conveners and teachers via the Student Experience of Learning & Teaching (SELT) feedback program. SELT surveys are confidential and also provide the Colleges and ANU Executive with opportunities to recognise excellent teaching, and opportunities for improvement.

Other Information

The information provided is a preliminary Class Outline. A finalised version will be available on Wattle and will be accessible after enrolling in this course. All updates, changes and further information will be uploaded on the course Wattle site and will not be updated on Programs and Courses throughout the semester. Any questions or concerns should be directed to the Course Convenor.

Class Schedule

Week/Session Summary of Activities Assessment
1 Introduction and Course Overview:
2 What distinguishes the Interpretive Approach? An introduction to the Philosophy of Science
3 What's the context? The role of theory and reasoning
4 What is a concept? An introduction to Conceptual History and Conceptual Elucidation
5 What is Social Constructivism? An introduction to the Sociology of Knowledge
6 An introduction to Ethnography
7 An introduction to Political Ethnography
8 Advancing Critical Discourse Analysis
11 Virtual Ethnography: Interpretivist Methods in the Digital Age
12 Conclusion: Preparing for Assessment & Exams

Assessment Summary

Assessment task Value Learning Outcomes
Self Relflexivity Practicum 15 % 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5
Research Essay 40 % 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5
Mid-Term Quiz 15 % 1, 2 & 5
Final Exam 30 % 1

* If the Due Date and Return of Assessment date are blank, see the Assessment Tab for specific Assessment Task details


ANU has educational policies, procedures and guidelines , which are designed to ensure that staff and students are aware of the University’s academic standards, and implement them. Students are expected to have read the Academic Integrity Rule before the commencement of their course. Other key policies and guidelines include:

Assessment Requirements

The ANU is using 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. For additional information regarding Turnitin please visit the Academic Skills website. In rare cases where online submission using Turnitin software is not technically possible; or where not using Turnitin software has been justified by the Course Convener and approved by the Associate Dean (Education) on the basis of the teaching model being employed; students shall submit assessment online via ‘Wattle’ outside of Turnitin, or failing that in hard copy, or through a combination of submission methods as approved by the Associate Dean (Education). The submission method is detailed below.

Moderation of Assessment

Marks that are allocated during Semester are to be considered provisional until formalised by the College examiners meeting at the end of each Semester. If appropriate, some moderation of marks might be applied prior to final results being released.

Assessment Task 1

Value: 15 %
Learning Outcomes: 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5

Self Relflexivity Practicum

Self Reflexivity is a vital component to interpretive methods which begin from a different set of assumptions about what we study and how. The role of the researcher and research ethics are built into research design in an explicit way that requires careful thinking through. This exercise asks students to think and write about how they are positioned in the world as investigating subjects. This is neither a statement of identity nor a declaration of biases, but rather it is an exercise in turning the same analytical gaze through which you might observe others onto yourself.  You are not obliged to divulge any information that you do not feel comfortable with. If this exercise raises issues for you, please consult with conveners and we will devise an alternative assessment. Detailed instructions will be provided on wattle, preparation for writing will be supplied through class activities.

Assessment Task 2

Value: 40 %
Learning Outcomes: 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5

Research Essay

All of our activities in class are aimed at preparing students for the interpretive approach to social scientific inquiry, including research questions, research design, use of theory, modes of reasoning, generation of data and modes of analysis. After having the opportunity to practice the skills required and being exposed to different examples of each approach, students are given the opportunity to try their hand in at least one of the approaches we've covered in class. Students are asked to generate their own research questions and topic in the interpretive mode of inquiry and write a research essay using at least one of the modalities of design and analysis explored in class. This includes: Ethnography Critical Discourse Analysis, Virtual Ethnography. Students must think through carefully their choice of approach and pay attention to all the features of the interpretive mode of inquiry highlighted in class and write a well researched , structured and argued essay.  More detailed instructions and examples will be supplied on wattle and preparation supplied through class activity.

Assessment Task 3

Value: 15 %
Learning Outcomes: 1, 2 & 5

Mid-Term Quiz

In this course students will be learning a lot of new vocabulary. A multiple choice mid-term quiz will test students on their knowledge and understanding of this vocabulary. The quiz will provide an opportunity for students to check their progress on course materials. We will be generating a glossary of terms on the wattle site.

Assessment Task 4

Value: 30 %
Learning Outcomes: 1

Final Exam

Students will be introduced to a wide variety of theories and approaches (though not exhaustive) in interpretive social science. The final exam is a form of summative assessment which ensures that students engage across the breadth of the course and they come out with a full appreciation for what Interpretive modes of inquiry do differently. Because of the word length of formative assessment the final exam will be multiple choice.

Academic Integrity

Academic integrity is a core part of the ANU culture as a community of scholars. The University’s students are an integral part of that community. The academic integrity principle commits all students to engage in academic work in ways that are consistent with, and actively support, academic integrity, and to uphold this commitment by behaving honestly, responsibly and ethically, and with respect and fairness, in scholarly practice.

The University expects all staff and students to be familiar with the academic integrity principle, the Academic Integrity Rule 2021, the Policy: Student Academic Integrity and Procedure: Student Academic Integrity, and to uphold high standards of academic integrity to ensure the quality and value of our qualifications.

The Academic Integrity Rule 2021 is a legal document that the University uses to promote academic integrity, and manage breaches of the academic integrity principle. The Policy and Procedure support the Rule by outlining overarching principles, responsibilities and processes. The Academic Integrity Rule 2021 commences on 1 December 2021 and applies to courses commencing on or after that date, as well as to research conduct occurring on or after that date. Prior to this, the Academic Misconduct Rule 2015 applies.


The University commits to assisting all students to understand how to engage in academic work in ways that are consistent with, and actively support academic integrity. All coursework students must complete the online Academic Integrity Module (Epigeum), and Higher Degree Research (HDR) students are required to complete research integrity training. The Academic Integrity website provides information about services available to assist students with their assignments, examinations and other learning activities, as well as understanding and upholding academic integrity.

Online Submission

You will be required to electronically sign a declaration as part of the submission of your assignment. Please keep a copy of the assignment for your records. Unless an exemption has been approved by the Associate Dean (Education) submission must be through Turnitin.

Hardcopy Submission

For some forms of assessment (hand written assignments, art works, laboratory notes, etc.) hard copy submission is appropriate when approved by the Associate Dean (Education). Hard copy submissions must utilise the Assignment Cover Sheet. Please keep a copy of tasks completed for your records.

Late Submission

Individual assessment tasks may or may not allow for late submission. Policy regarding late submission is detailed below:

  • Late submission permitted. Late submission of assessment tasks without an extension are penalised at the rate of 5% of the possible marks available per working day or part thereof. Late submission of assessment tasks is not accepted after 10 working days after the due date, or on or after the date specified in the course outline for the return of the assessment item. Late submission is not accepted for take-home examinations.

Referencing Requirements

The Academic Skills website has information to assist you with your writing and assessments. The website includes information about Academic Integrity including referencing requirements for different disciplines. There is also information on Plagiarism and different ways to use source material.

Extensions and Penalties

Extensions and late submission of assessment pieces are covered by the Student Assessment (Coursework) Policy and Procedure. Extensions may be granted for assessment pieces that are not examinations or take-home examinations. If you need an extension, you must request an extension in writing on or before the due date. If you have documented and appropriate medical evidence that demonstrates you were not able to request an extension on or before the due date, you may be able to request it after the due date.

Privacy Notice

The ANU has made a number of third party, online, databases available for students to use. Use of each online database is conditional on student end users first agreeing to the database licensor’s terms of service and/or privacy policy. Students should read these carefully. In some cases student end users will be required to register an account with the database licensor and submit personal information, including their: first name; last name; ANU email address; and other information.
In cases where student end users are asked to submit ‘content’ to a database, such as an assignment or short answers, the database licensor may only use the student’s ‘content’ in accordance with the terms of service – including any (copyright) licence the student grants to the database licensor. Any personal information or content a student submits may be stored by the licensor, potentially offshore, and will be used to process the database service in accordance with the licensors terms of service and/or privacy policy.
If any student chooses not to agree to the database licensor’s terms of service or privacy policy, the student will not be able to access and use the database. In these circumstances students should contact their lecturer to enquire about alternative arrangements that are available.

Distribution of grades policy

Academic Quality Assurance Committee monitors the performance of students, including attrition, further study and employment rates and grade distribution, and College reports on quality assurance processes for assessment activities, including alignment with national and international disciplinary and interdisciplinary standards, as well as qualification type learning outcomes.

Since first semester 1994, ANU uses a grading scale for all courses. This grading scale is used by all academic areas of the University.

Support for students

The University offers students support through several different services. You may contact the services listed below directly or seek advice from your Course Convener, Student Administrators, or your College and Course representatives (if applicable).

Dr Nick Cheesman

Research Interests

Dr Nick Cheesman

Dr April Biccum

Research Interests

Global Citizenship, Global Governance, Political Theories of Empire and Imperialism

Dr April Biccum

Monday 10:00 11:00
William Howe

Research Interests

William Howe

Responsible Officer: Registrar, Student Administration / Page Contact: Website Administrator / Frequently Asked Questions