Objective hermeneutics

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The objective hermeneutics is one of Ulrich Oevermann founded hermeneutic method of empirical social research . On the one hand, it is a method of opening up meaning. On the other hand, it is a theory of the constitutive characteristics of the “world structured in meaning”. Objective hermeneutics aims to be an empirical, falsificationist research methodology for the humanities , social and cultural sciences . In contrast to other hermeneutics, it does not attempt to open up the subjectively intended meaning . Instead, she tries to understand the meaning of “expressive forms”, especially of texts . The objective hermeneutics belongs to the reconstruction logic (in contrast to subsumption logic).


Objective hermeneutics is strictly analytical hermeneutics (unlike, for example, the hermeneutics of Hans-Georg Gadamer ). Therefore it cannot and does not want to make a direct contribution to the management of any life practice. Questions such as responsibility in action are generally not dealt with by the objective hermeneutic analysis. Such questions are only treated as an objective-analytical evaluation of a socialization-specific, analytically clearly describable process. An example of a question to be dealt with would be the probation dynamics , e.g. B. the assessment of professionalism in responsible professions. Another example of such a dynamic of probation to be dealt with would be the correspondence of a concrete life practice with the probation goals it is striving for.

Within a strictly immanent-analytical approach, for example as a universal moral-philosophical-practical category, a concept such as responsibility can be examined with this method. Beyond that, this is not possible.

Object area: the meaning-structured world

Objective hermeneutics is a social empirical science. Your object area is the "world structured in meaning". This concept of the world stands in contrast to the nonsense-structured world, which is the subject of natural science. The consideration of structures of meaning confronts the scientist working with this method, unlike the natural scientist, with the need to understand precisely and methodically consider the origin and characteristics of meaning as a social category.

According to the understanding of objective hermeneutics, the structures of meaning are generated by a system of “generative rules”. This generative rule concept comes from Noam Chomsky : A generative rule system is accordingly a system that can produce an infinite number of results through a finite number of rules . Chomsky resorted to the mathematical theory of recursive (back-related) functions. Generative rules refer to universal and historical structures . Universal structures cannot be changed, but historical structures can.

Generative rules create objective structures of meaning in the form of recursive algorithms . The generative rules thereby enable well-formed actions and expressions. Objective hermeneutics tries to reconstruct these structures.


In the context of objective hermeneutics, structures are those laws with which a life practice (individual, group, community, institution, society) makes typical selections from the options generated according to rules over a certain period of time.

Structure can be divided into four levels:

  1. Level 1 with parameter 1: It contains the set of all structural laws that open recursively, algorithmically formed possibilities.
  2. Level 2 with parameter 2: These are the typical choices of a life practice from level 1. The second level is the level of subjectivity .
  3. Level 3 as the result of the selection: It contains the objective case structure law or the objective identity .
  4. Level 4 as always only partial comprehension: It contains a self-image capable of consciousness and an intersubjective identity .

These structures are protected by latency . Structural layers can be distinguished. These are differentiated according to the latency of accessibility .

  • The universal structures are to be assigned to the unconscious . The universal structures are invariable and therefore cannot be changed even by exposure.
  • In the historical structures (epoch-specific, society-specific, subcultural , milieu-specific rules), on the other hand, there are stages of latency from the unconscious, the preconscious to the partially conscious .

According to Luhmann's definition (in the Parsons tradition ), structural-functional latency serves to protect the structure. Accordingly, latency prevents structures from being destroyed by exposure . This only applies to the historically variable structures.


The subject of the procedure are texts. If one looks at texts from the point of view of the bearer of meaning and significance, then one can extend this to the entire human work. This also includes landscapes, films, pictures, paintings, etc. These are objectified in the form of protocols. The protocols, for their part, are to be separated from everyday life (the recorded reality). Oevermann understands life practice z. B. Individuals, families, groups, organizations, companies or national societies that see themselves as units. The immediacy of life practice prevents immediate analysis.

In contrast to other qualitative methods, as well as traditional hermeneutics , objective hermeneutics is not about reproducing a meaning intended by the author, but about determining the latent (i.e. unconscious) meaning of the text. Objective hermeneutics assumes that a language of individuals has intersubjectively shared rules and meanings that can be reconstructed. The reconstruction of the structure of "World Three" (see Three Worlds Doctrine ) takes place through interpretation. The following rules of interpretation apply:

  1. At the center of a case is a structural core, which can also be referred to as a structural formula or generative principle. The aim of scientific work must therefore be to reconstruct (decipher) the structural formula of the case.
  2. Interpretation must follow the principle of sequentiality . The aim is to reconstruct sequence by sequence, interact by interact.
  3. The scientific interpreter should ascribe as much meaning as possible to the phenomenon and thus also take into account the most unlikely ways of reading.
  4. The interpretations not eliminated in the interpretation process must then describe the structural core of the case.

There is no standardized approach to data collection . Care is taken not to overlook any "little things". Therefore recording devices are used. This ensures that there is no selection in advance.

Designing readings means constructing contextual conditions that make the respective interaction (including sequence) appear meaningful. This approach has nothing to do with arbitrary interpretation, but takes into account the structure of " World Three ", as this is hidden. It is precisely because of this approach that it differs from the “everyday interpretation”, since in everyday life a direction must be taken without detours in the interpretation. This must also be the case in everyday life, since the attempt to include the improbable, the extraordinary or the adventurous would make action considerably more difficult. This type of interpretation requires a change in attitude among the scientific interpreters. The interpreter must try to alienate the object, to be "naive" towards it. The function of this is to prevent criticism as well as firmly established ideas about readings. It should also help him not to incorporate any “prior knowledge” about the case into the construction of contexts.

Sequentiality is a characteristic of human activity. Each act represents a sequence point at which a process of closing and opening possibilities for action opens up. Human action is based on the social act and for which applies

  1. that it is rule-based (generative rules),
  2. that it works in the sense of a recursive algorithm,
  3. that it represents a closed circle of action (gesture, reaction, resultant).

This is why sequence analysis is the methodologically appropriate answer to the sequentiality of human action. When interpreting a sequence, a distinction must be made between two parameters: The first parameter relates to the entirety of the available options for action - it specifies the total number of sequencing rules that offer a logical connection to the action at this point. The second parameter relates to the selection among the available options for action - this includes all elements of the life or action practices involved which lead to a selection.

The principle of totality stipulates that in principle everything has to be taken into account when reconstructing a log section . Everything has to be interpreted, every detail, no matter how inconspicuous, has to be included.

The literal principle means that only that which can be tied to its expressive form can be used to develop a thing. This means that only what can be found literally in the text or in the protocol can be used to reconstruct the case structure.

The presentation principle defines the way in which a case is presented, i. H. should be presented. The representation is hierarchical. First, the analysis of the question is presented. It is necessary that the question is reconstructed using objective hermeneutic means and the result is recorded in writing before the next steps can be tackled. Second, there is the interpretation of the objective data; H. the history of the case, as well as the social inclusion. In third place follows the interpretation of the collected data, starting with the opening sequence. This principle also applies to the order of case analyzes.

The question of the verifiability - i.e. validity - of the hypotheses made by the hermeneutic empirical science still arises. This is where Poppers' falsification principle comes into play. Accordingly, a hypothesis cannot be verified (proven), but has to be falsified (refuted). The only way to refute a hypothesis is to refute it. The following procedural steps are therefore used in objective hermeneutics:

  1. Making a hypothesis
  2. Checking the hypothesis
    1. on their empirical content
    2. on their logical content
  3. Formulation of the hypothesis in its pure form
  4. Attempted refutation
    1. hypothesis
    2. boundary conditions
    3. forecast

If a decision is negative during the review, the hypothesis and thus the system from which it originates is considered falsified and is therefore not valid. The falsification principle is applied in two places in hermeneutic empirical science. In the first place, the falsification principle can be found in the sequence analysis through the introduction of parameters I and II. Then at the level of parameter II - concrete selection - decisions are made from the open options (parameter I) that do not fit the structural hypothesis, see above this is considered falsified. The second position is at the end of the interpretation of a case, when all readings are checked to see whether they really fit the structural hypothesis. This shows that the results of the objectively hermeneutically proceeding science are checked twice for their validity. "A stricter falsification procedure is simply not available in the methodology of the human sciences." (Oevermann)

Interpretation example

The currently most detailed and most likely complete sequence analysis by the founder of objective hermeneutics, which therefore also appears to be best suited for study purposes, can be found in

  • Ulrich Oevermann (2001): Structural problems in supervisory practice. An objective hermeneutic sequence analysis to check the professionalization theory . Humanities Online, Frankfurt am Main (see also Oevermann's essay in the volume by Barde / Mattke (1993))


  • Ulrich Oevermann (2001): Beckett's “Endgame” as a touchstone of hermeneutic methodology. An interpretation using the method of objective hermeneutics. (Or: an objective-hermeneutical exercise) . In: New Attempts to Understand Beckett's 'Endgame'. Social scientific interpretation according to Adorno . Edited by Hans-Dieter König. Pp. 93-249. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main.

Aesthetic theory

Ulrich Oevermann has written several essays on the consequences of his approach for aesthetic theory. Dirk Pilz has developed an objective-hermeneutical theory of aesthetics in a critical connection to Oevermann.


  • Ulrich Oevermann, Tilman Allert, Elisabeth Konau, Jürgen Krambeck: (1979). The methodology of an “objective hermeneutics” and its general research-logical meaning in the social sciences. In: Hans-Georg Soeffner (Hrsg.): Interpretative procedures in the social and text sciences. Metzler, Stuttgart 1979, pp. 352-434.
  • Oevermann, Ulrich (2000): The method of case reconstruction in basic research as well as clinical and educational practice, in: Klaus Kraimer (Ed.): The case reconstruction. Understanding of meaning in social science research. Frankfurt am Main, pp. 58–156: Suhrkamp
  • Oevermann, Ulrich (2001): Structural problems in supervisory practice. An objective hermeneutic sequence analysis to check the professionalization theory. Frankfurt am Main: Humanities Online
  • Oevermann, Ulrich (2002): Clinical sociology based on the methodology of objective hermeneutics - manifesto of objective hermeneutic social research . Frankfurt am Main (PDF file, 173 kB).
  • Ley, Thomas (2004): Objective Hermeneutics in Police Training. For the social science foundation of a curriculum. Berlin: Duncker & Humblot
  • Ley, Thomas (2010): Introduction to the method of objective-hermeneutic sequence analysis. Frankfurt am Main: Publishing house for police science
  • Wagner, Hans-Josef (2001): Objective Hermeneutics and Formation of the Subject. Weilerswist: Velbrück Science
  • Wernet, Andreas (2000): Introduction to the Interpretation Technique of Objective Hermeneutics. Opladen: Leske + Budrich
  • Wernet, Andreas (2006): Hermeneutics - Case Studies - Case Understanding. An introduction. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer

Web links


  1. This is not a completely new approach; see. z. B. Karl Popper'sThree Worlds Doctrine ” a. v. a. m.
  2. ↑ The sciences can be empirical sciences if they deal methodically with the objective appearance of objects without bringing subjective evaluations into play. According to Oevermann, social and natural sciences are seen as empirical sciences as opposed to the pure human sciences (such as literary studies, aesthetics), which must include judgments of value and taste (albeit in a systematic and reflective way) in their considerations. Furthermore, Oevermann differentiates from the sciences (humanities and empirical sciences), the so-called art teachings , i.e. H. the disciplines underpinned by scientific activity such as medicine, law, business administration, education or therapeutic psychology.