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ideographic versus nomothetic approaches


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The former term refers to those methods which highlight the unique elements of the individual phenomenon—the historically particular—as in much of history and biography. The contrast is with the nomothetic, which seeks to provide more general law-like statements about social life, usually by emulating the logic and methodology of the natural sciences. The distinction hails from the German philosopher Wilhelm Windelband, and provoked an acrimonious debate (the so-called Methodenstreit) in late 19th-century Germany and Austria, between proponents of generalizing and individualizing approaches to the social, historical, and cultural sciences. Many of Max Weber's methodological writings are directed towards this debate, notably his theory of concept formation and ideal types, although the issues have also been popularized via the psychological writings of Gordon Allport. See also Geisteswissenschaften and Naturwissenschaften; life-history.

Subjects: Sociology.


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