This chapter confronts the shift from positivism’s concern with order and structure to subjectivity and the symbolic. It begins by considering idealism’s lebensphilosophie as a precursor of Husserl’s phenomenology with its emphasis on meaning. This links with the Romanticism and neo-Kantianism of Simmel and Schutz. The focus on order gives way to contingency, observation and the hermeneutic. The anthropological thrust embraces the work of Sapir, Whorf, Levi-Strauss and the subsequent embracing of sociolinguistics in the work of Gumperz and Hymes.

Sociologists, on the other hand, rejected functionalism, taking different paths in the form of ethnomethodology and the interactive work of Goffman and, Mead inter alia. This idealism betrays the influence of Durkheim, stressing the constitution of the social world through mutual understanding. The associated stress on practical reasoning is central to Castoriadis’ praxis philosophy, and Berger and Luckman’s social construction of meaning. The meaning of situations regulating language exchange as speech relates to situated individuals supporting their discursive competence, their distributed knowledge of the specific society and culture - the norms that operate in the situation, the exchanges and the social roles.