An interpretive approach to studying human activity is a potentially powerful set of procedures for the social sciences. The proponents of this methodology focus on levels of “discourse constraints” that give meaning to public behavior in their attempt to link the “explanation” of texts to an “understanding” of context. The argument can be extended to the search by cognitive scientists and psycholinguists for constraints on the “discourse of thought,” including the interrelationship of thought and the context within which thinking takes place.

The “texts” of human behavior, linguistic or otherwise, seem to cohere. Discovering how the principles of coherence are acquired by individuals as they develop, and how this “tacit knowledge” informs “public action,” will require joint effort by many social scientists, including psychologists. A rigorous interpretive approach also requires that we acknowledge how, as researchers, we add layers of meaning to the activities we observe.

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