For interpretivists, the natural world and social world are different. The social world is a world of meaning - human beings construct their own social reality. Their actions are directed by meanings, so any understanding of human action must involve an understanding of meanings.
Weber - social action
Social action is action which involves other members of society. It's based on meanings in the minds of social actors which direct their actions. Weber was particularly concerned with motives - the intentions and purposes which direct social actors to achieve certain goals.
Motives are key to explaining any social action. Weber's method of interpreting motives is known as verstehen meaning empathetic understanding. Researchers put themselves in the place of social actors and see the world through their eyes. The problem is whether this actually produces a true picture of the actors world view.
The Protestant ethic
Weber's methodology can be illustrated with his work on The Protestant Ethic. He was interested in the meanings and motives - the 'spirit of capitalism', which he believed led to the rise of capitalism. Using historical sources, he claimed capitalism developed from early forms of Protestantism which preceded capitalism. He saw that this meant work became a 'calling', and making money is an indication of success in one's calling, showing a person had not lose favour in God's sight.
The comparative method
How does Weber know that his interpretations are correct? His answer is to use the comparative method which compares different societies and different groups within the same society. In the absence of the lab where variables can be controlled, he attempts to find 'natural' labs which allow variables to be measured.
He produces evidence which indicates that early capitalism developed within predominantly Protestant, rather than Catholic, societies, and that within…