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What is Critical Realism?

In the American Sociological Association Theory Section Newsletter Perspectives, senior consultants and affiliated faculty members working with the Critical Realism Network crafted a response to the question: “What is Critical Realism?” If you are interested in understanding the complex dynamics and currents of critical realism, this is your first stop. Below is an extract, but make sure to view the full article here

Defining critical realism is not an easy task. While there is a pool of scholars that critical realists often draw upon (e.g. Archer 1982, 1995; Bhaskar 1975, 1979; Elder-Vass 2010; Gorski 2008, 2013a; Lawson 1997; Little 2016; Porpora 2015; Sayer 2000; Steinmetz 1998, 2003, 2014; Vandenberghe 2015) there is not one unitary framework, set of beliefs, methodology, or dogma that unites critical realists as a whole. Instead, critical realism is much more like a series of family resemblances in which there are various commonalities that exist between the members of a family, but these commonalities overlap and crisscross in different ways. There is not one common feature that defines a family, instead, it is a heterogeneous assemblage of elements drawn from a relatively common “genetic” pool. Critical realism is a philosophical well from which Marxists, Bourdieusians, Habermasians, Latourians, and even poststructuralists have drawn. The reason for this is simple. Critical realism is not an empirical program; it is not a methodology; it is not even truly a theory, because it explains nothing. It is, rather, a meta-theoretical position: a reflexive philosophical stance concerned with providing a philosophically informed account of science and social science which can in turn inform our empirical investigations.