Realism, Philosophy and Social Science

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DCR is not an account of social science, but rather a philosophy of how knowledge about people and their social structures may be construed, interpreted, described and fitted together. DCR assumes that although the ground of knowledge is real, it also has a value base: there is no such thing as value-free social science. Critical Realism has been attractive to social researchers, and theorists who are committed to a firm ideological basis for viewing human action e.

Marxists, Muslims, Catholics in asserting that structures within society are real and although their nature and influence may be debated, their being or ontology e. Bhaskar adapts the Hegelian model of dialectical debate traditionally: thesis, antithesis, synthesis but goes beyond this model in positing a fourth level in the dialectical process which leads to action for, or advocacy of change.

Furthermore, common English words are used in a way which attributes a rather different meaning to that of everyday language.

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The use of the word absence is a case in point. Absence is the crucial empty physical, social and mental space that enables movement, imagined alternatives, processes and change. What one finds in CR writing is an absence of dogma, and a willingness to engage in debate the essence of DCR to reach compromise. Criticalrealism is exceptional in its coherent articulation of a contemporary philosophy of being, of knowing and real personal, ethical and social change, and its refusal to reduce being of all types, including spiritual being, to socially constructed epistemology or merely psychological or semantic meaning.

This makes the philosophy of critical realism at its original, dialectical and spiritual moments an ideal vehicle for the development of a systematic rationale to interpret Islam and Islam-in-education in a multi-faith world. Success is seen by Wilkinson as embedded in the multidimensional development and self-realisation of human social interaction within and between the four planes of social being defined by CR theorists.

These planes are:. The Real: material transactions with nature e. The Empirical: Social relations at the non-reducible level of social structures, institutions and forms;. The first level is 1M-DCR concepts of basic reality e. Instead, 1M sees that we are part of nature… A related problem is the adultist fallacy. This sets rational adults at the apex of morality, and regards childhood as a slow climb up from lower, natural, pre-social, pre-moral babyhood to higher, socialised, moral adulthood.

Since learning about DCR, I have revised some of my former ideas and discarded others, on the continuing journey of learning and changing. And then at the level of the fourth dimension 4D, there occurs the fullest realisation of reflexive analysis. We relate to the world and to other people through recognising what we share in common Bhaskar, p. The key questions concern identity who am I?

Alderson, p.

Routledge Studies in Critical Realism

At this stage then, false consciousness in the Marxian model is shed, and alienation is unmasked. The realisation of absence, of lack of fulfilment, and yearning for change. These range from neglect and abuse to violence that wastes potential and ends the lives of millions of children.

It is an inner urge that flows universally from the lack of elemental absence lack, need, want desire. I hope that this chapter, by showing all the MELD moments, will help to clarify the meaning and relevance of some earlier parts of this book. They all relate to the DCR logic that human beings inevitably desire and move towards freedom and justice, and that this is or should be the central concern of social science … When individuals are out of touch and alienated from their body and nature plane 1 , from other people plane 2 , and from structures and institutions plane 3 they can become unable to act in order to absent the absences and power 2 [of oppressive forces], and they are denied the capacity for transformation at MELD 4D.

It is certainly not a completed system which can be applied in these fields to solve all problems: on the contrary, by treating scientific projects as explorations of realities with inexhaustible depths, it helps to keep these projects open for self-criticism and development. For example silence is the precondition of speech, rests are indispensable to musical sound, and as we know from natural science, empty space is a necessary condition of solid objects.

Philosophy of Social Science Online Course | Critical Realism Network

For Bhaskar, positive change is often the removal of, or progression from, something negative. The archetype of this movement is the process of abolishing i. At this level, DCR concepts allowed Wilkinson to focus on transformative ideas, on the notion of the primacy of structure over individual agency. This task of linking agency with structure means that more than any other subject at the level of 4D Fourth Dimension-transformative praxis , citizenship education needs to be carried outside of the classroom into the community.

However, transcending the purely material concerns of Marxian ideology, Bhaskar embarked on a spiritual journey, exploring Hindu and Buddhist concepts of self Bhaskar, Both structure and agency exist independently i. This is because any form of social interaction, from the dyad to the global system, requires that subjects know themselves to be themselves. Only then, Archer p.

Reflexivity does not usually lead to structural change, of course, and Archer illustrates why this is so in her analysis of types of reflexivity. This habitus of the labouring classes, and of the reserve army of labour is said to be deeply entrenched. Bourdieu has appeal for some radical sociologists in that he seems to have identified how socio-economic classes perpetuate themselves through symbolic rituals which can be enduring across generations: but these rituals may also be identified, and changed e.

Carlile, ; Stahl, ; Savage, Archer like Alderson, p. Reflexivity is not necessarily positive, because it can also have negative outcomes… some will be taking the best course, but may make mistakes… not all reflexion is successful, but all are crucially trying to be reflexive.


In Making our Way through the World Archer argues that there is movement between modes of reflexivity, taking the agent through the various levels of the MELD model or not, as the case may be. Archer p. And reflexivity can assume crucial importance in times of stress and change.

Progress and change are not inevitable. This is a fruitful area for qualitative research, for eliciting extended accounts of how people in specific communities, or with shared pasts e. The agents in such a study might be people undergoing change in their lives and who are making choices for the future, reflecting on their past: a population of senior high school students might be ideal for such a study. We suspect that both ideas might, dialectically, be confirmed, or a new synthesis of both views might emerge: perhaps the four stage MELD model might even be applied to the results.

That, in Marxist terms, would be a society liberated from the oppression forces of alienation 4. This opening is not without its risks: wonder can be closed down if what we approach is unwelcome… But wonder is a passion that motivates the desire to keep looking; it keeps alive the possibility of freshness, and vitality of living that can live as if for the first time… wonder involves the radicalisation of our relation to the past, which is transformed into that which lives and breathes in the present. DCR helps to identify and remedy this problem, in following Marx by identifying five types of practical contradictions to be resolved if real change is to occur. Marx, as a scientific realist, believed that explanatory structures are essentially not only distinct from, but are often… in opposition to the phenomena they generate. This, we infer, is a way of saying that although he is a Marxist, he is certainly not a Marxist-Leninist. According to Bhaskar, not only is there an elective affinity between critical realism and historical realism, but also the original intent of critical realism was to support the science of history that Marx had opened up… it is in their differences that the real possibilities of a working relationship between critical realism and Marxism are established.

This seriousness is an antidote to what we will see as tendencies in fields like the sociology of education and Marxist sociology of education to ontological shyness.

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As Shipway observes in his A Critical Realist Perspective of Education, schools are particularly appropriate places for a Marxian critical realist analysis and reconstruction of values and social structure. Easton also offers a very useful guide to case study research using critical realism, for use in organisational, business and human relations management.

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  7. I distinguish between the real world, the actual events that are created by the real world and the empirical events which we can actually capture and record. Thus we will always be surprised about the nature of the real… The research process is one of continuous cycles of research and reflection. The final result is the identification of one or more mechanisms that can be regarded as having caused events. The grounded ontology of these studies is that the realist framework which constrains employers in Islamic countries is that of the values and rituals of Islam including deference to authority, and the care of employees , rather than those of profit- making.

    These traditional values require for example, accommodation of the needs of women, who in consequence enjoy a better quality of work-life balance benefits than do female graduates in Western countries. We make the point also that Islamic rules concerning enterprise, profit and interest mean that the capitalist mode of profit-making and exploitation of workers, and their resulting alienation which Marx had described do not normally pertain in business enterprises in many nations, an important factor for multinational investors extending manufacturing and marketing in Arabic countries.

    The youngsters among us are no longer truly part of themselves: we share ourselves, reflexively, with a much wider world than when Roy Bhaskar published his first major book, in What is the meaning of this electronic world? Alderson p. The qualitative researcher will elicit these accounts from her informants. But then, how should she intervene as intervene she must? She is writing about her research with physically challenged children, but these words could have been written about physically and sexually abused children. Finally, we want to emphasize how exciting and life-changing critical realist theory may be.

    Once the scholar has absorbed this writing or their personal version of it, since different actors will perceive DCR writings differently, and take away different aspects of the model in their quest for truth-telling and social change their intellectual and emotional lives will never again be the same. This is a basis for the realist understanding of human being in society and in nature which, through the account of absence, is aligned to a theory of becoming and change in a spatio-temporal world.

    The alignment of being and becoming is achieved in a manner that displays both a uniqueness of individual philosophical voice and boldness of intellectual vision, and these gave Bhaskar a fair claim to stand… in the first rank of western philosophy today. Journals by Subject. This book argues that a realist analysis of the structures and processes which make up the social world can provide a way out of its present impasse.

    These processes, ranging from the interpersonal negotiation of meaning to the constraining influence of administrative or market structures, cannot be understood as mere constructs either in the minds of the theorist or of the social factors themselves, since they actually generate the social world as we know it. The author develops some implications of this approach and presents a realist view of some of the principal theoretical traditions and controversies within sociology and other social sciences.

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