Changing research methodology: Two case studies of Critical Realism informing social work doctoral research

Shajimon Peter, Lynne Soon-Chean Park

Abstract


INTRODUCTION: Critical Realism (CR) has much to offer to social work research because of its recognition of the existence of objective and subjective realities. Bhaskar (1978) classifies these levels of reality as the empirical, the actual and the real. Empirical realities emerge from our experience of the world and include our subjective constructions. The underlying real reality is seen as a productive force, causing the empirical to appear. Researchers using CR methodology can employ an analytic process called retroduction. This approach involves moving back and forth from the empirical to the real to identify causal mechanisms that drive the empirical to manifest.

APPROACH: This research brief is the outcome of a research methodology literature review undertaken by two doctoral students who employ CR perspectives. Their research proposals have been used as case studies to demonstrate the usefulness of CR in informing social work research. These findings were presented at the ANZSWWER international symposium held at the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

FINDINGS: CR uncovers the epistemic fallacy of reducing ontology to the realm of epistemology. The totalising truth claims of both objectivism and subjectivism are replaced with an alternative conception of stratified forms of reality – the real, actual and empirical. Reality exists both objectively and subjectively. This enables researchers to bridge social constructionism and structural causation. It allows for study that explores the subjective considerations of respondents while examining the objective existence of causal mechanisms such as social structures, systems or processes. 

CONCLUSION: CR offers an alternative that social work researchers have long been searching for: to engage meaningfully in studies that examine perceived realities at the empirical level and the causal mechanisms that lie behind them.


Keywords


Critical Realism; Research Methodology; Social Work Research

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References


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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.11157/anzswj-vol30iss1id426

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