Methods Center

Qualitative Methods and Interpretative Social Research

Chair: Prof. Dr. Ursula Offenberger

The research area Qualitative Methods and Interpretative Social Research develops an independent profile in research and teaching on the one hand and sees itself on the other hand as a place where the expertise for interpretative methods widely represented in the faculty is bundled, thereby promoting further exchange and networking.

Profile of the Department

The focus of our own methodological-methodological work is on pragmatism and social research. Assumping an "unprecedented timeliness" of American pragmatism (Hans Joas) as a genuine philosophy of the modern era, we will examine the philosophical, scientific, social-theoretical, and research-practical significance of pragmatic maxims for empirical and theoretical social research. Methodologically and with regard to research practices, we are particularly interested in the tradition of Grounded Theory and its current further development into Situational Analysis as proposed by Adele Clarke. Situational Analysis integrates pragmatist and poststructuralist perspectives and incorporates concepts from Science, Technology and Medicine Studies into the analytical 'toolkit'. This creates a framework that both demands and facilitates the reflexive attention to practices and effects of scientific knowledge production. Methods are considered as performative and hence as techniques of social-scientific knowledge production that always (co-)produce their objects, their problems and their solutions.

Research practice is regarded as a policy of re-presentation - a genuinely political undertaking that combines questions of scientific knowledge production with questions of democratic practice and the responsibility of research and researchers. Against this background, 'critical' projects such as feminist or postcolonial theories of science are also gaining importance: What does it mean to produce 'situated knowledge' (Donna Haraway)? Or what does it mean to conceive of objectivity as 'objectivity of perspectives' (George Herbert Mead)?

Equally important are questions of science communication inside and outside the university, questions that need to be answered anew in the face of the current digital revolution. Teaching is a central component of science communication. The University of Tübingen has decidedly set up a junior professorship with a focus on teaching in order to support students on their way into doing empirical research.

Current focus of work

The following three focal points reflect the orientation of the research area towards research, teaching and university networking activities:

  1.  A research project by Ursula Offenberger on questions of biomedicalization, psychiatric biopolitics (Nikolas Rose), constructions of the normal and the pathological (Georges Canguilhem) and the importance of patient organizations and health movements (Steven Epstein). The project is embedded in current medical-sociological discourses as well as in debates on reflexive or ambivalent modernization. It uses concepts and research practices from Science, Technology and Medicine Studies (e.g. Adele Clarke), creates the basis for participative health research and intensifies cooperation with the Department of Psychosomatics of the Faculty of Medicine in Tübingen.
  2. The book project "A Hitchhiker`s Guide to Grounded Theory": in the course of 2019 a web comic will be created in cooperation with master students of the Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences.
  3. A local working group on Pragmatism and Social Science will be set up in the months to come.

Promotion of exchange and networking

Researchers at the Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences use a broad array of different methods for doing empirical research, many of them applying qualitative and interpretive approaches such as ethnography, discourse analyses, narrative and image/video analyses, biographical research, qualitative content analysis or grounded theory/situational analysis. Researchers are involved in various collaborations, such as the research training groups on "Doing Transitions", on "The Persistence of Gender Binaries", on rigth-wing populism ("Rechtspopulistische Sozialpolitik und exkludierende Solidarität") as well as in some subprojects of the Collaborative Research Centre "Threatened Orders".

Current and future collaborations with the Center for Methods aim at promoting further exchange within the faculty on theoretical, practical and methodological issues. Furthermore, since 2011, colleagues have been united in a network for qualitative methods and interpretative research (Quali-Net), which cooperates closely with the Center for Methods, for example by organizing network meetings and lecture series (e.g. on quality criteria of interpretative social research).

The interdisciplinary research infrastructure of the faculty is supported through the annual Schools for Qualitative Research which the Method Centre organises twice a year in cooperation with Qualinet and the Institutes of Sociology and Educational Science. The workshops gives PhD candidates the opportunity to work on their projects with renowned experts from Germany and abroad.

Closely linked to these "events" are the regular offers of the Method Centre for curricular and extra-curricular teaching, counselling and further training for qualitative-interpretative procedures as provided by the ESIT-Methodendozentur.