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Critical Realism and the Social Sciences

Critical Realism and the Social Sciences: Heterodex Elaborations

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Critical Realism and the Social Sciences
    Book Description:

    Critical Realism and the Social Sciencesbrings together contributors from both sides of the Atlantic, all of whom engage with tenets of critical realism, juxtaposing them with traditional representations of social scientific enquiry.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8423-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xx)
    Ted Benton

    In their introductory chapter, the editors rightly note the great potential of critical realism (CR) as a stimulus to a renewal of social scientific enquiry. Given the evidence provided by the essays collected here of the immense diversity of current interpretations and uses of CR, I might be forgiven a few paragraphs of autobiography concerning its original context.

    Until the end of the 1960s polarized meta-theoretical commitments – positivism and hermeneutics – dominated philosophical thinking in and about the social scientific enterprise. This polarity could be represented by the revolt of ‘symbolic interactionism’ against Parsonian orthodoxy in the United States, or by...

  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
  5. Contributors
    (pp. xxiii-2)
  6. 1 Critical Realism and the Social Sciences: Methodological and Epistemological Preliminaries
    (pp. 3-29)

    Critical realism is a distinctive school of thought that has been growing in significance since 1975, when the philosopher of science Roy Bhaskar published his groundbreaking book,A Realist Theory of Science.Bhaskar’s next book,The Possibility of Naturalism(1978), focused more on the social sciences, and in 1989 he publishedReclaiming Reality, a third crucial volume, where, in part through responding to critics of his work, he developed and consolidated his position.A Realist Theory of Sciencechallenged the general representations of natural science while stressing that discipline’s capacity to produce valid knowledge. By reconceptualizing the nature of the...

  7. 2 Bhaskar’s Critical Realism: An Appreciative Introduction and a Friendly Critique
    (pp. 30-63)

    The purpose of this article is to provide a detailed introduction to the early writings of Roy Bhaskar, which were of tremendous significance in sociology, and subsequently in other fields of social science and in philosophy. They have been taken up by many scholars, including contributors to this volume, and they provide a backdrop to much of the development of ideas in their papers. Bhaskar’s early writings were and are of signal importance, because by providing a coherent alternative to both the positivistic and more hermeneutic traditions in social theory they show ways out of impasses still characteristic of social...

  8. 3 For Realism, and Anti-Realism
    (pp. 64-73)

    Theories about the nature of truth cluster into three broad regions in intellectual space that we can callrealism,instrumentalism, andconstructivism. Most important of these is realism, because it accords best with pre-theoretical intuitions about truths. In rough terms, realist theories see truths as fully dependent on the way the world is, as reflecting the facts. In the philosophy of science and the philosophy of language, realism has typically meant that true theories, sentences, or propositions correspond to the world. Thus, realism typically demands a relation of correspondence between true representation and that which it represents.

    Instrumentalist theories see...

  9. 4 Critical Realism and God
    (pp. 74-96)

    In this chapter I wish to intellectually and historically situate what I believe is the single most significant issue of disagreement among critical realists: the existence or non-existence of a (loving) God (or Gods). Along the way of this outline I will also indicate some of the fault lines of other critical realist internal debate. Perhaps more important, I also intend to refute some of the arguments propounded by critical realist theists. Such refutation is by its nature mainly philosophical; however, I also intend to engage with some of the sociological and political aspects of the religious issues.

    One might...

  10. 5 Rescuing Reflexivity: From Solipsism to Realism
    (pp. 97-116)

    Reflexivity is a sine qua non of sophisticated social scientific work. Unfortunately, as currently practiced, it is also extremely hazardous for realists since it can all too easily lead to the subversion of realism’s foundational ontological postulate, namely that the social no more depends for its existence on individual human thought than the rest of nature. In what follows, an alternative to the current mode of reflexive practice is developed that is not subversive of this postulate. This alternative is then used to explain how the current mode of reflexivity achieved its dominance by understanding it as part of a...

  11. 6 More Than Straw Figures in Straw Houses: Toward a Revaluation of Critical Realism’s Conception of Post-structuralist Theory
    (pp. 117-141)

    Proponents of Bhaskarian-derived realisms¹ routinely claim that one of the most compelling aspects of their approach is that it provides an alternative to both (what I would see as) ‘modern’ positivism and (what they see as) ‘postmodern’ relativism. While I am sympathetic to this goal, the way in which ‘postmodernist’ theory is handled by most realists leaves much to be desired. Too many writers, from too many traditions, have for too long been dismissing so-called postmodernism without saying precisely what this term means to them, and without providing theoretical argumentation based on close readings of texts to support their claims....

  12. 7 Thinking across the Culture/Nature Divide: An Empirical Study of Issues for Critical Realism and Social Constructionism
    (pp. 142-161)

    Social constructionism is impressive in its accomplishment of detailed empirical and ethnographic studies of a wide variety of phenomena. It is, however, less impressive in its tendency to bracket or suspend (ignore) nature’s dynamics from its analyses, leading its accounts to become decontextualized abstractions. Critical realism offers a more complete analysis by situating social constructions in their context of nature’s constructions. Critical realism must nevertheless also develop a strong empirical dimension if it is to flourish. The present paper seeks to document this weakness of social constructionism, to contribute to thinking across the culture/nature divide, drawing on the work of...

  13. 8 Beyond Cognitive Critiques: Getting Real about Politics
    (pp. 162-178)

    Roy Bhaskar has argued that critical realism represents an attempt to ‘re-orient the human sciences away from the positivist and instrumentalist goals of prediction and control to realist ones of depth explanation and human emancipation’ (Bhaskar 1989: 187). To retool the human sciences for depth explanation, Bhaskar and others have contributed to the development of an explanatory practice in which ‘observation should be theory-driven; causal modelling and testing are better means of articulating theory and data than hypothesis testing for generalizations; and because of the irreducible differences between our minds and what they seek to comprehend, results are always ultimately...

  14. 9 Objectivity and Marxian Political Economy
    (pp. 179-201)

    ‘Objectivity,’ as in ‘objective knowledge,’ has acquired a bad name in recent years because it has sometimes been used to make rather authoritarian knowledge claims that deny the role of subjectivity in knowing or that overstate the knowledge claims appropriate to various types of object. All too often claims to objective knowledge do not stand up to close scrutiny or seem to imply some sort of out-of-body knowing. Yet, in the social sciences, theorists do continually try to replace less objective knowledge with more objective knowledge even if they do not explicitly state this particular dimension of their intellectual efforts....

  15. 10 Why Is This Labour Value? Commodity-Producing Labour as a Social Kind
    (pp. 202-223)

    First, I don’t ask, Why isthis‘labour value’? but instead Why is thislabourvalue? The latter question, I hope to show, is decisive for social enquiry. It opens on an understanding of the social composite of labour and form, ofenformed social labour, that is the basis for commodity production. As a result, an answer to it can ground our understanding of those societies that depend on the production and exchange of commodities.

    For Marx, the question’s significance seems to me to reflect the influence Aristotle had on his thought. Moreover, what he did with it prefigures contemporary...

  16. 11 The Relation between Marxism and Critical Realism
    (pp. 224-239)

    It has often been claimed that Marx, when writingCapital, followed critical realist principles before critical realism even existed. The present article looks at the evidence to indicate whether this claim is justified. It examines Marx’s famous derivation leading from the commodity to congealed abstract labour, as one can find it, e.g., at the very beginning ofCapital, but that exists in somewhat different versions also in theContribution to the Critique of Political EconomyandValue, Price, and Profit.Marx’s derivation has always been controversial. But if this derivation is viewed in critical realist terms, many of the criticisms...

  17. 12 Understanding Why Anything Matters: Needy Beings, Flourishing, and Suffering
    (pp. 240-257)

    In everyday life, the most important questions we face tend to be normative ones. To translate them into generalities, they are about how to evaluate what is going on, how our lives and those of others are faring, and what to do for the best. They can be about the minutiae of social life, like what to say next in a conversation, or about individually significant events like divorce or changing our job, or about more general matters of politics or lifestyle. As social scientists, however, we are trained to block out normative matters and focus on positive questions of...

  18. 13 The Expulsion of Foucault from Governmentality Studies: Toward an Archaeological-Realist Retrieval
    (pp. 258-272)

    Inspired by Foucault’s work on indirect rule and the decentralized nature of modern power and regulation, studies of ‘governmentality’ have become prolific, appearing in sociology, criminology, legal studies, cultural studies, and many other disciplines.¹ In an ironic twist, however, although it is Foucault’s (1978/1991) governmentality paper that is the ‘source’ of this prolific scholarly activity, it is the influential efforts of Rose and Miller (Miller & Rose 1990; Rose & Miller 1992)² to bring Foucault’s work to bear on the study of social action as it relates to the intersection of expertise and the regulation of conduct that is foundational...

  19. 14 From Foucault’s Genealogy to Aleatory Materialism: Realism, Nominalism, and Politics
    (pp. 273-295)

    Recent debates about Michel Foucault’s epistemology and ontology have highlighted a tension in his work between his explicit nominalism/ antirealism (e.g., Rose & Miller 1992; cf. Veyne 1978/1997) and his implicit realism (Pearce & Woodiwiss 2001). Critical realists have yet to engage with the question of Foucault’s nominalism, dismissing post-structuralism as ‘idealism’ (Bhaskar 1989: 2, 188–191; Sayer 2001: 32). Also, contemporary Foucauldians have neglected the explication of their metatheoretical commitments. I aim to clarify and intervene in this debate by drawing on Roy Bhaskar’s identification of the epistemic fallacy in Immanuel Kant, a fallacy that leaves traces in Foucault’s...

  20. 15 Gadamer’s Minimal Realism
    (pp. 296-316)

    A few words about the genesis of this chapter are in order. Unusually for theoretical papers of this sort, it is a collective effort. In fact, it is the product of a discussion within a social theory reading group that has been meeting regularly for eight years. The chapter represents an attempt at producing a work in common; and as is to be expected, we each probably stress some aspects of the argument over others.

    However, there are some core propositions that we do share.

    1 Hans-Georg Gadamer is a realist, although in a minimal sense.

    2 There is much...

  21. Bibliography
    (pp. 317-346)
  22. Name Index
    (pp. 347-349)