Skip to content

Interviews with Critical Realists and fellow travellers

A guest post by Jamie Morgan, introducing an open access series of interviews with leading critical realists.

[Updated 15/9/21: we now have a permanent page with pointers to these and other interviews here. Also added a link to the second part of Tony Lawson interview below.]

Critical Realism is a philosophy of science and social science with many adherents, different developments or forms and numerous well-known works in various disciplines. As Hubert Buch-Hansen and Peter Nielsen’s recent Critical Realist inspired textbook suggests, what these all share is an under-labouring approach to philosophy, a distinction between ontology and epistemology, a triad of ontological realism, epistemological relativism and judgmental rationality, a claim that reality is an emergent, stratified open system, a sensitivity to ‘ontic’ and ‘epistemic fallacies’ and a general understanding that knowledge may (sometimes) be objective but is not neutral, in so far as there is no simple fact-value division. Thereafter there is great diversity and continual development and this has always been the case.

It is sometimes neglected, however, how diverse the development of Critical Realism has always been and remains. While clearly, Roy Bhaskar has played a pivotal role in the development of Critical Realism, many were and are attracted to his work because they were already ‘realists’. This includes the other founders of the Centre for Critical Realism and various other figures over the years who have made distinctive contributions. With this in mind, the Journal of Critical Realism has begun an interview project exploring the work of Critical Realists and those with similar approaches to philosophy, theory, method and research. Not with the aim of diminishing the legacy of Roy Bhaskar, but rather to illustrate the range and vibrancy of work within the realist tradition. The project is ongoing and so far includes interviews with:

Professor Margaret Archer. Archer discusses her academic career and influences, from her early work on education through the development of her structure-agency-culture and morphogenetic/morphostatic approach, to her most recent work on ‘the future of the human’.

Professor Doug Porpora. Porpora discusses how he transitioned from a degree in mathematics to postgraduate research in sociology and how this led to his landmark work on social structure, his subsequent work on moral-macro reasoning and his many collaborations with Archer and others through the Centre for Social Ontology.

Professor Tony Lawson. Lawson’s interview breaks into two parts. The first part follows a similar format to other interviews in the series, setting out how he became a participant in the development of Critical Realism, how this supported his longstanding critique of mainstream economics (notably mathematical modelling) and how he views different strands of Critical Realism. Part two introduces his own work on social ontology, notably his ‘social positioning theory’.

Professor Alan Norrie. Norrie discusses law’s complex relationship with philosophy, how Critical Realism informed his work on law, how this took a decisive turn with the development of Dialectical Critical Realism (DCR) and how his own work has helped to promote and develop DCR.

Professor Nicholas Rescher. Rescher’s interview is slightly different than the others, in so far as he is not closely associated with Critical Realism. He is, however, one of the most prominent American Pragmatists of the last hundred years and many facets of his work parallel realist concepts and arguments and provide useful sources of inspiration on key issues for Critical Realists (not least the problem of prediction).

The interview project is then, ongoing. Each interview provides biographical detail and an extensive bibliography and the intent is to provide a platform for the interviewee to range across their life and work. As the project unfolds the overall intention is to interview across the generations and as and when they are completed, each interview will be published in the JCR with links available from the Critical Realism Network site, in order to cumulatively provide an archive and resource.

Professor Jamie Morgan, School of Economics, Analytics and International Business, Room-520 The Rose Bowl, Leeds Beckett University Business School, Portland Place, Leeds, LS1 3HB