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Books on Critical Realism and Sociological Research Methods

Margarita Mooney first published this blog entry on Patheos on April 16, 2016. Although I’m a sociologist, I’ve included books from other disciplines as well, such as economics, disability studies, and management. Even though I can’t say enough good things about each of these books, I’ve noted a few key points I think each work contributes to research methods. I’ve bought each of these books and read them cover to cover. I cite them in my own work to backup my own use of critical realism as a meta-theoertical approach.

First, here are my five favorite books (in chronological order) explaining why critical realism matters for social science research:

  1. Sayer, A. (1992) Method in Social Science: A Realist Approach. London: Routledge.
    • Why conceptualization is important, and if so, why we need ontology, not just more data.
    • How sociological knowledge is related to other kinds of knowledge.
    • Why sociology is a multi-method discipline, and why ontology helps explain that.
    • How to assess competing, or even conflicting, findings.
  2. Danermark, B. Ekström, M. Jakobsen, L. Karlsson. J.C. (1997)  Explaining Society: An Introduction to Critical Realism in the Social Sciences. London: Routledge.
    • The relationship between theory and data in the social sciences.
    • How to combine qualitative and quantitative data as well as how to synthesize intensive and extensive research designs.
    • The nature of generalizations from a CR perspective.
    • How to combine interpretation and causal explanation.
  3. Lawson, T. (1997) Economics and Reality. New York: Routledge.
    • Why the claim to be a science can’t be based on experimentation or quasi-experimentation. Social science combines data with various kinds of logic, including retroductive logic, which asks: what causal powers must exist for this demi-regularity or this unique event to occur? How can we understand causality as not as uncovering universal laws (empirical regularities) but rather as abstracting to mechanisms and powers that explain events and processes?

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  1. Edwards, P., O’Mahoney, J. and Vincent, S. eds. (2014) Studying Organizations Using Critical Realism: A Practical Guide. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    • How can critical realism help leaders of organizations approach practical problems?
    • Excellent overviews of the research process from a critical realist perspective.
    • Chapters targeted at CR and ethnography, CR and interviewing, CR and mixed-methods.
  2. Pawson, R. (2016) Evidence-Based Policy: A Realist Perspective. London: Sage Publications.
    • How realism can guide attempts at systematic review.
    • Why more data and meta-analyses alone can never guide policy.
    • How to do rigorous applied social research.

To learn more, don’t forget to register for my webinar in CR & Research Methods on April 28, 2016, at 12 noon EDT (you can see the recording even if you can’t be there live). You should also read my blog about my presentation on CR & Research Methods from IACR 2015.

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