Hermeneutical approaches


The hermeneutical appraoches we will consider are:

  • Textual analysis:
    establishing an accurate version of the original text for subsequent analysis.
  • Linguistic analysis:
    establishing the accepted meaning of words and phrases in the community in which the text was produced at the time of its production.
  • Literary analysis:
    establishing how the meaning of a text is shaped by genre and literary devices, and how different ideologies used in reading the text yield different meanings.
  • Historical analysis:
    establishing how the historical context at the time of writing affects the meaning, and what the historical meanings were.
  • Textual analysis

    In a textual analysis the objective is to establish the veracity of the text, a real problem when analysing ancient texts where the original may have been lost or damaged and all we have is a copy of the original or a fragment of the whole. Our problem is minor compared with theirs. In this case the text fragment was originally a hand-written assignment for an MBA assignment written in the early 1990s and given to the author. It has subsequently been used as a didactic device to show in a concise manner what can go wrong when change is mishandled and to draw parallels with designing and implementing information systems. It has also been used to critically examine some of the cornerstones of ISD research (user involvement, culture, success and failure, deskilling).

    Linguistic analysis

    This form of analysis establishes the accepted meaning of the words and phrases in the text. In some instances the text will contain jargon or slang and this must be “uncovered”. “foreign aid workers” and , “the experts” are taken as synonymous. Furthermore, given their eventual solution they would have possessed some engineering skills to construct the water delivery arrangement. “Low-tech” is an abbreviation for low technology where the low implies simple or lacking complexity. This interpretation accords with the description of the technology employed. “Accolades” may also ave to be defined (praise, thanks, public appreciation). Textual and linguistic analyses can be referred to as operating in the textual “world”, whereas our next two analyses are located in the “social” realm (Newman and Boland, 2007).

    Literary analysis

    Literary analysis includes elements of genre analysis, for example, and how this shapes peoples’ understanding. Is it a piece of fiction or poetry as these and all genres would influence our interpretation? In S1 the text describes itself as a “story” which is probably an accurate description. It reads like an unfolding sequence of events: entering the village, scoping the water gathering “problem”, designing and building a relatively simple solution and handing the solution to the women, which they reject before the experts leave the village (although this latter event is assumed and is not part of the text). “Considerable time” and “quite long distances” are probably literary devices to express understatement. It is likely that the effort spent on these activities was considerable and therefore the savings in effort and time were extensive adding to the compelling argument of the aid workers in providing a solution. If the water hole was just a short distance from the village, the arguments for building the new delivery service would lose their credibility. There is also evidence that the women acted collectively. For example, the “women spent going quite long distances together” and, “collectively, the women decided not to use the taps”. The women went to collect water together: it was a group activity and probably this did not involve the males. When it came to assessing the worth of the water delivery system, the women collectively boycotted it.

    Historical analysis

    Part of textual analysis is to explicate the historical dimension of the text. Where did it come from, who wrote it and more specifically what was the history of this group in delivering aid in similar circumstances? We know that the record of failure to deliver changes in a timely fashion that offer value to major commercial and public organizations is legendary (see below). But we often seem to overlook an obvious: what is there to learn from historical patterns? One approach is to assume that past negative patterns of change will tend to repeat themselves (Newman et al., 2006). Here we see an example of the hermeneutic circle: we link the failure to deliver the WDS (detail) with the historical pattern of failure (a theory of pattern reproduction), using each feature to make sense of the other. The text writer was one of the cohort of MBA students at RSM. But the student (a male) was also one of the aid workers described in the text. What we do not know is the history of delivering projects successfully by this aid agency. We therefore assume that there was a mixed level of success in this regard. What we can know with some certainty is that the women at this particular village will be less than enthusiastic in the future about such
    projects. As well as the failure to deliver an acceptable water delivery system to the women, the negative history created will be difficult to overturn. Indeed the events may subsequently evolve into the realm of a saga in the village: stories may circulate and become embellished in the telling and re-telling about the time the “crazy foreigners” wasted their money and messed up in the village and how the heroic women folk put the experts in their place. We take our histories into the future even if those histories become distorted over time.

    Gibbons, M. T. (Ed.) (1987). Interpreting Politics. New York University Press.