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Research Methods in the Social Sciences: An A-Z of key concepts

Research Methods in the Social Sciences: An A-Z of key concepts (1st edn)

Jean-Frédéric Morin, Christian Olsson, and Ece Özlem Atikcan
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date: 02 December 2021

Critical Realism

Uncovering the Shades of Greylocked

Critical Realism

Uncovering the Shades of Greylocked

  • Dominik Giese
  •  and Jonathan Joseph

Abstract

This chapter evaluates critical realism, a term which refers to a philosophy of science connected to the broader approach of scientific realism. In contrast to other philosophies of science, such as positivism and post-positivism, critical realism presents an alternative view on the questions of what is ‘real’ and how one can generate scientific knowledge of the ‘real’. How one answers these questions has implications for how one studies science and society. The critical realist answer starts by prioritizing the ontological question over the epistemological one, by asking: What must the world be like for science to be possible? Critical realism holds the key ontological belief of scientific realism that there is a reality which exists independent of our knowledge and experience of it. Critical realists posit that reality is more complex, and made up of more than the directly observable. More specifically, critical realism understands reality as ‘stratified’ and composed of three ontological domains: the empirical, the actual, and the real. Here lies the basis for causation.

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