Critical hermeneutics and higher education: a perspective on texts, meaning and institutional culture

  • Anthea HM Jacobs


This paper is a discussion of critical hermeneutics as a research methodology employed in a conceptual analytic study of the concept ‘institutional culture’ within the context of higher education. The research was undertaken to develop an understanding of the concept and to explore its construction in university policy documents. The aim of this paper is to motivate the choice of critical hermeneutics as a research methodology for the mentioned study. I explore both aspects of critical hermeneutics, namely hermeneutics and critical theory. The interpretive nature of hermeneutics enabled me to expose the hidden meanings of institutional culture, while its context-specific nature was beneficial for pointing out the nature of institutional culture in the university setting. Critical theory, on the other hand, was appropriate because it is a theory that is self-conscious about historicity and the role of the social environment. In combination, the merits of these two aspects of critical hermeneutics facilitated the understanding of the university setting as a social reality. Employing critical hermeneutics as a research methodology furthermore assisted in analysing the construction of institutional culture within university policy documents, taking into account the important role of history in interpretation. In essence, critical hermeneutics facilitated my understanding of the difficult-to-explain concept ‘institutional culture’ in the higher education setting.

South African Journal of Philosophy 2014, 33(3): 297–310

Author Biography

Anthea HM Jacobs
Faculty of Education, Department of Education Policy Studies, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 0258-0136