Deciphering Culture

Thinking about research — Short Takes (1)

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Two reposts of interesting blog posts I’ve read lately on research (from the design sector).

In case you’re curious or have a memory lapse (like I did), here’s a short “definition” of verstehen from Wikipedia (where else):

Verstehen is a German word which does not directly translate into English but is loosely synonymous with “understanding” or “interpretation”. In the social sciences it refers to a kind of non-empirical, empathic, or participatory examination of social phenomena. The term is particularly associated with the German sociologist, Max Weber, whose antipositivism established an alternative to prior sociological positivism and economic determinism, rooted in the analysis of social action. In anthropology, verstehen holds parallels with cultural relativism and has come to mean a systematic interpretive process in which an outside observer of a culture attempts to relate to subcultural group, or indigenous people, on their own terms and from their own point-of-view.


(1) From the online magazine Interactions:

Adding By Leaving Out: The Power of the Pause
Liz Danzico

We tend to think of the pause as awkward. In speech, pregnant pauses connote uncomfortable silence; we veil silence with fillers. As professional communicators, we’re trained to deliver smooth speech, censoring out “um” and “ah.” Public-speaking groups, such as the well-known Toastmasters, fine every member who utters an “uh” or “um” during a speech. This distaste for the pause – and the inverse, seeking an always-on state – is a battle we face at school, at work, and in industry at large.

I propose that we’re too impatient with the pause, and as a result, we’re missing out on a great deal. What would happen if, as communicators and designers, we became more comfortable with the pause? Because it turns out we can add by leaving out. The pause has power. (hit link @ title for the rest)

(2) From Copernicus Consulting (a Toronto design research and strategy firm):

The essence of qualitative research: “verstehen”

by Sam Ladner on October 15, 2009

“But how many people did you talk to?” If you’ve ever done qualitative research, you’ve heard that question at least once. And the first time? You were flummoxed. In 3 short minutes, you can be assured that will never happen again.

Folks, qualitative research does not worry about numbers of people; it worries about deep understanding. Weber called this “verstehen.” (Come to think of it, most German people call it that too. Coincidence?). Geertz called it “thick description.” It’s about knowing — really knowing — the phenomenon you’re researching. You’ve lived, breathed, and slept this thing, this social occurrence, this…this…part of everyday life. You know it inside and out. (hit link @ title for the rest)

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Written by Jeffrey Callen

July 24, 2010 at 7:23 pm

Posted in Methodology, Research

Tagged with ,

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