Social Research Glossary


A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z Home


Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


A fast-paced novel of conjecture and surprises



core definition

Meaning refers to the way a conversation, an event, or a social phenomena is construed by social actors.

explanatory context

The construal or meaning is not simply individualistic (as psychologists tend to assume) but has its source in the social milieu, collective representation, or culture.


Meaning is an important concept for many sociological perspectives. A concern with meaning is of central importance for so-called interpretive approaches, and is a major concern of most hermeneutic, and phenomenological approaches as well as symbolic interactionism and ethnomethodology. Revealing meaning involves a process of interpretation and/or understanding.


It is usually assumed that a concern with meaning was developed in the Weberian approach. Like the tradional hermeneuticists such as Dilthey, Weber wanted to distinguish Gesteswissenschaften from the Naturwissenschaften. The cultural and social sciences differed from the natural sciences because they had to take into account the meaning of social phenomena for social actors which involved some form of empathy.


In symbolic interactionism, it is argued that the way people act towards each other is a function of the meanings the symbolic exchanges have for the actors.


Ethnomethodologists tend to a view that meanings are taken for granted in social exchanges and that individuals adopt multiple sets of meanings to deal with different social settings.


Apart from the sociology of meaning there is also a well established philosophy of meaning which explores our ability to underatnd words and sentences and endow them with symbolic significance. Such endowment is seen to occur in three different ways, either through experience, or through intended outcome of actions, or through rule construction and the relation of meaning to truth conditions.

analytical review

associated issues


related areas

See also

Researching the Real World Section 2.3


copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z Home