Max Weber said that sociology is ‘a science which attempts the interpretive understanding of social action in order thereby to arrive at a causal explanation’. Weber said we need to understand why people do things if we are to truly understand their actions.
Weber developed the theory of verstehen whereby researchers put themselves in the position of those in a society in order to try and understand why they act in certain ways.
Herbert Blumer said that instead of looking at society as a whole we need to look at the meanings of small-scale interactions. He said researchers should not only see the world through the eyes of the social actors, they should immerse themselves in this world so they can really fully understand the meaning behind actions. So in the case of suicide we should look at each case individually rather than saying it was caused by the same thing for all of one society.
Phenomenology takes this interpretivist perspective to the extreme. It says that our reality consists just of meanings, therefore the job of the sociologist is to discover the meanings of actions and behaviour and nothing else.