One defining feature of interpretivist approaches to social science is the idea that the goal of analysis is to provide interpretations of social reality rather than law-based explanations. But of course nobody these days believes in law-based causality in the social world anyways, so the question whether interpretation is to be understood as purely descriptive or as explanatory remains. Here is what I wrote about this issue for an introductory chapter on research design in political science. The paragraph, however, will need to be removed from the text to make the chapter shorter, so I post it here instead. I will be glad to see opinions from scholars who actually work with interpretivist methodologies:
It is difficult to position interpretation (in the narrow sense of the type of work interpretivist political scientists engage in) between description and explanation. Clifford Geertz notes that (ethnographic) description is interpretive (Geertz 1973: 20), but that still leaves the question whether all interpretation is descriptive open. Bevir and Rhodes (2016) insist that intepretivists reject a ‘scientific concept of causation’, but suggest that we can explain actions as products of subjective reasons, meanings, and beliefs. In addition, intentionalist explanations are to be supported by ‘narrative explanations’. In my view, however, a ‘narrative’ that ‘explains’ by relating actions to beliefs situated in a historical context is conceptually and observationally indistinguishable from a ‘thick description’, and better regarded as such.