Systematic improvisation. Some misunderstandings in Boswell and Corbett’s ‘Embracing impressionism’

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Boswell and Corbett’s ‘Embracing Impressionism’ is at heart a spat about authoritativeness. Yanow, others and I have repeatedly argued that interpretive knowledge has its place in the sun next to quantitative or experimental knowledge. I do not think that argument needs repeating here; it has been made persuasively, with reference to a century of non-foundational philosophy, by many others (Taylor 1985; Fay 1996; Bevir and Rhodes 2010; Wagenaar 2011) No one can be held to account for the philosophical ignorance of others. One relatively small and mostly rhetorical piece of that argument is that interpretive research is systematic. This aspect of the argument is addressed to those adherents of the empiricist modes of social science who claim that qualitative and interpretive approaches are impressionistic and subjective, and, therefore, less worthy, and less authoritative. Boswell and Corbett (BC) take issue with the alleged systematic nature of interpretivism. They claim that interpretive research is much more haphazard and partial – impressionistic is their term – than we make it sound. In fact, they argue that impressionism should be worn as a badge of honor. Interpretive research will be the better for it.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)226-229
Number of pages4
JournalCritical Policy Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 3 Apr 2015
Externally publishedYes


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