Application of critical realism in social work research: Methodological considerations



Critical realism, research methodology, ontological map, retroduction, intensive data


INTRODUCTION: Critical realism (CR) provides a unique and robust philosophical framework for social work researchers by attending to the role of individual agency and social structure; however, little practical guidance is available regarding how the ontology and epistemology of CR can be applied as a methodological framework for qualitative research.

APPROACH: In this article, we explain what CR is in relation to other ontological and epistemological positions and provide some practical suggestions for CR-informed research by drawing on relevant examples from a study that examined the causes of trust among Korean migrants in Aotearoa New Zealand.

CONCLUSIONS: We suggest that the three-layered ontological map of CR justifies the use of series of data-coding processes to identify preliminary tendencies at the surface layer of empirical reality, abductive reasoning to formulate ideas about how observed tendencies are connected at the middle layer of actual reality and retroductive inference to identify causal mechanisms or structures and key conditions embedded in the deeper layer of real reality to produce certain experiences under study.

Author Biographies

Lynne Soon-Chean Park, University of Auckland

Lynne S. Park is a Research Fellow in Korean Studies, School of Culture, Languages and Linguistics at the Faculty of Arts, University of Auckland. She received her PhD in Social Work at the University of Auckland in 2020. Her interdisciplinary research combines social work, migration and Korean Studies with a particular focus on ethnic minority groups in the context of New Zealand. Current areas of research include qualitative research methodology, the social dimension of identity and the impact of COVID-19 on Asian communities.

Shajimon Peter, Edith Cowan University, Australia

Shajimon Peter is a senior lecturer and social work course coordinator in the School of Arts and Humanities, Edith Cowan University, Australia. Shajimon has published on a range of topics, including migration, transnational social work and social research methodology. Current research interests include emancipatory research, lived experience of transnational social work practice and Critical Realism–informed social research. 


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How to Cite

Park, L. S.-C., & Peter, S. (2022). Application of critical realism in social work research: Methodological considerations. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 34(2), 55–66. Retrieved from



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