Editor's Introduction: Realist Methodology: A Review

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Critical realists offer a set of philosophical underpinnings for social research. Critical realists also engage constructively with social theory, but they are more than just theorists. In this chapter I list and describe various innovative methodological contributions made in recent years by realists. I point out ways in which research methods (i.e. techniques) fit with particular methodological assertions. There is a historical legacy of empiricism which critical realists often use as a foil to make their own position more clear. However, among realists, a wide variety of methods are used, and the range of realist methodological assumptions is wider than one might expect because of their efforts to work with social theory.The introduction to the chapter covers ontology as it relates to research methods. The second section of the review introduces retroduction, a major methodological starting-point common to most realists. The third section reviews concretely the realist debate over statistics and some realist contributions to qualitative methodology, qualitative methods, and action research as used by realists. The fourth section takes up the challenge of realist claims about knowledge (debates usually known as epistemology). An important aim in this chapter is to argue that 'factual' statements usually embody layers of meaning, and thus are contestable; that enquiry using quantitative methods can coherently be done from a realist perspective; and that among realists qualitative enquiry is a broad and useful set of methods which have made genuine innovations in methodological knowledge. Meta-critique and pluralism are widely-used realist contributions to the methods tool-basket in social science, and the realist approach to social statistics is a much better guide to how statistics is, in practice, done than any currently available empiricist quantitative textbook (Ron, 2002). However 'quantitative' research always rests upon conceptual, theoretical and qualitatively derived frameworks and therefore is derived from qualitative work, whereas the converse is not true; qualitative research does not require any quantitative research. In the current scene, mixed methods also play a key role as a growing area of research methods. In this way, within sections one and two, the reader is given an overview of Volume 1 of this collection. Sections two and three of this chapter review Volumes 2 and 3 (realist methods, and empirical examples, respectively). Section four reviews the epistemological theme that is at the core of Volume 4. This introduction thus roughly parallels the contents of the rest of the volumes.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRealist Methodology
Subtitle of host publicationBenchmarks in Social Research Methods Series
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherSage Publications Ltd
ISBN (Print)978-1412948630
Publication statusPublished - 2010

Publication series

NameSocial Research Methods Series
PublisherSage Publications


  • methodology
  • social science
  • methods
  • realist philosophy


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