Originally published in 1978, this important work, by one of the leading European social theorists, is arguably the best introduction to the hermeneutic tradition as a whole. It is designed to help students of sociology and philosophy place the problems of "understanding social science" in their historical and philosophical context. It does so by presenting the major current in sociological thought as responses to the challenge of hermeneutics. The idea that true knowledge of social life can be attained only if human conduct is seen as meaningful action whose meaning is accordingly grasped has been presented as a discovery of recent sociology. In fact its history is long and its connections plentiful, reaching beyond the boundaries of sociology itself. Yet it is in sociology that the hermeneutic tradition has attracted most interest but most misinterpretation. The debate is in full swing and there is no attempt to offer "correct" solutions - the emphasis instead is upon revealing the strengths and weaknesses of each of the main approaches. However it is Bauman's view that the theory of understanding may achieve valid results only if it treats the problem of understanding as an aspect of the ongoing process of social life.