(Re) Envisaging Emancipatory Research, Science and Practice

The 2021 Annual Conference of IACR, the International Association for Critical Realism, (#IACR2021) will be an Online Conference (Zoom Platform) hosted by Rhodes University and the University of Witwatersrand (South Africa) from 20 – 24 September 2021.

The call for papers is reproduced below from https://iacr2021.co.za/ where you will also find the links to submit an abstract and register for the conference (registration is very attractively priced!). The deadline for abstract submission has been extended to 19 July 2021.

The conference will have the following sub-themes:

Social-ecological emancipation 

This theme will explore to what extent critical realism has, and in future can, contribute to philosophies of sustainability (Parker, 2014). If social-ecological emancipation is the desired ‘outcome’ of research endeavours how can critical realism help us (re)build, and re-imagine, alternative frameworks that allow us to rigorously examine, and eventually overcome, the challenges associated with systemic and complex global issues such as climate change, poverty and inequality? Parker argues that philosophies of sustainability need to meet the following criteria: allow for the development of global public reason, formulate the human/nature relation, account for the intersection of technology and sustainability, and contribute to the development and expansion of not only transdisciplinary capabilities but also transdisciplinary frameworks (2014). Two questions then arise which this theme will aim to explore. To what extent has critical realism, in its various iterations and permutations, met the afore mentioned criteria? Where are we now, what are the limitations of critical realism, and what are the outlines of a future critical realism that can contribute to the overarching objective(s) associated with socio-ecological emancipation? 

Emancipatory perspectives on health and well-being 

The well-being of all living organisms, including humans, is dependent on a flourishing planetary ecology. Humans, as social beings, also need societies that provide nurturing, safe communities. We therefore need to know about “people, planet, and society”  to guide actions to achieve wellbeing. This requires research that is necessarily interdisciplinary to cope with these different research focuses, some of which are emergent from others. Due to this emergence, we can only achieve interdisciplinary understandings if we have a conception of the stratification of reality, as found in critical realism. For instance, interdisciplinary – dialectical and laminated – inquiry may have significant contributions to make as we emerge from the covid pandemic. It can also help in understanding the inequality present in society, such as the way that the burden of care, which is at the heart of achieving wellbeing, falls predominantly on the shoulders of women and the poor. The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed this inequality by highlighting the broken social contract of the state ‘s responsibility for all citizen’s wellbeing. We therefore invite submissions that explore what critical realism has to offer us as we face current and future health and wellbeing challenges.

Ethics and emancipation in action: Towards a concrete utopia

The term “emancipation” suggests a directional movement: from a relative lack of freedom to a place of greater freedom, where freedom is defined broadly as flourishing, or the absence of ills. Yet, this statement is filled with assumptions: such as that we might know the difference between flourishing and its absence, that we want freedom and that we would know how to get there if we wanted it. This sub-theme is therefore about those “assumptions” which we could summarise as the things that we need to achieve emancipation, which at the very least must include ethics (an idea of the good and how to achieve it) and action (or human agency). The work of Roy Bhaskar has provided frameworks and concepts to help guide our emancipatory action, such as concrete utopia, explanatory critique and his “absenting absences” version of dialectic, each of which are based on a commitment to moral realism and ethical naturalism. We are interested in both theoretical considerations and practical examples of ethics and emancipation in action.

Forms of realism and their emancipatory potential

Recently, there has been a proliferation of approaches to realism and ontology such as: Realist Evaluation (e.g. Ray Pawson and Nicholas Tilley), Speculative Realism (e.g. Quentin Meillassoux and Ray Brassier), realist Analytic Philosophy and realist Pragmatism (e.g. Susan Haack), the New Materialisms (e.g. Karen Barad, Rosi Braidotti, and Manuel DeLanda), and Object Oriented Ontology (e.g. Graham Harman). In this conference sub-theme, we invite discussions around these different kinds of realism. We ask for example: How similar are they to critical realism? Do these approaches have a common thread? Can realism in general be developed by engaging with the strengths and weaknesses of the different perspectives? Given the overall conference theme, we also ask what these different realisms have to offer the project of emancipation.

Rethinking economics and economies 

Although much is uncertain about our future this much, we know: Firstly, that our current economic systems, and the ways of being and becoming associated with them, are unsustainable and deeply oppressive and exploitative–whatever metric you use to quantify the state of affairs. Secondly that conventional epistemologies, especially those arising from orthodox economics, is not up to the task of providing the much-needed emancipatory frameworks. This does not however mean, as Lawson & Morgan (2020) rightly point out, that ‘heterodox’ economics should narrowly only focus on critiquing orthodox theories and methodologies. What is needed are ‘heterodox’ approaches, rooted in forms of ontological realism which allow for an recognise the existence of open, complex and historically grounded systems (Lawson & Morgan, 2020), which challenge the mainstream yet do not fall prey to the temptations of mathematical modelling. This theme will explore how critical realism can help us rethink economics and economies. Not in terms of an outright rejection of orthodox economic theories, methodologies and assumptions but as a way to potentially open spaces for generative, and above all emancipatory, thinking about economics and economies.

Practising emancipatory methodologies 

Lotz-Sisitka describes the need for developing ‘critical forms of research that can tease out, model and realise possible transformative acts of democracy, social justice and human emancipation in and through research’  (2016: 207). Critical Realism has cleared the philosophical ground enabling critical theorists to re-envisage research as an emancipatory force that avoids the ontological and epistemological conflation that traps both relativist and positivist research positions. With these philosophical tools it is up to us to develop or re-visit the emancipatory methodologies necessary to practice applied research. We invite presentations illustrating the use of Critical Realism tools to:

  1. situate research as an emancipatory action, 
  2. challenge and transform the position of the individual researcher in the collective practice of knowledge generation, and 
  3. apply methodologies that enable critiques that disrupt unequal power relations and absent what prevents our collective potential to transform.

Education for the future: Knowledges and emancipatory practices 

The education landscape is in a state of flux. Values and purpose need to be radically refined, catalysed by the demand for a more equitable model of education in which emancipatory practices are core, and multiple ontologies and epistemologies are embraced. However, the emergence of this utopian version of education is fraught with struggles for legitimacy arising from entrenched structural and cultural mechanisms that continue to maintain the status quo. This theme provides an opportunity for practitioners to critically examine the current moment in education (particularly with shifts in how global south histories and knowledges are engaged with), to determine what it needed for the emergence of a more just, contextually relevant and sustainable life long education system.

For any further information related to IACR 2021 please contact Ulisha Van Der Merwe on u.vandermerwe@ru.ac.za