Critical Realism: The Difference in Makes

Critical Realism: The Difference in Makes

Critical Realism: The Difference in Makes

Critical Realism: The Difference in Makes


This book introduces social scientists to the difference that critical realism can make to theorising and methodological problems within the contemporary social sciences. The chapters, which cover such topics as cultural studies, feminism, globalization, heterodox economics, education policy, the self, and the 'underclass' debate, are arranged in four sections dealing with some of the major topics in contemporary social science: ethics, the consequences of the 'linguistic turn', methodology and globalization.



As realism gains ground in social theory, it seems fair to admit that it has made a greater contribution to the re-conceptualisation of structure than it has to that of agency. However, if the ‘problem of structure and agency’ is to be resolved, then equivalent attention has to be given to both terms. Moreover, realism’s stratified ontology, which has proved so useful in delineating the properties and powers that emerge at different levels of social structure, is just as pertinent to agency. This is what will be examined here. Specifically, it is those strata that pertain to every mature social agent, namely ‘selfhood’, ‘personal identity’ and ‘social identity’, which will be the focus of attention. The implications of distinguishing these different personal emergent properties (PEPs) will be discussed throughout in relation to other theories that fail to make these distinctions. What difference a realist approach to agency makes to social investigation will be indicated in the conclusion.

There are two aspects to the ‘problem of agency’, and both are fundamental. Technically, the central problem of agency is to conceptualise the human agent as someone who is both partly formed by their sociality, but who also has the capacity partly to transform their society. Morally, the problem is to put forward a model that is recognisably human; one that retains Arendt’s notion of the ‘Human Condition’ as entailing a reflexive ‘Life of the Mind’. As agents, we are what Charles Taylor (1985:65) calls ‘strong evaluators’, and this must be recognised; for we do not take a detached, third-person, scientific stance to our own lives or to our societies.

Basically, I argue that two ‘models of man’ have dominated social theorising for the past two hundred years, and that neither can cope with the technical or moral problems raised by the ‘problem of agency’. These models can be called ‘Modernity’s Man’ and ‘Society’s Being’.

In cameo, the Enlightenment allowed the ‘Death of God’ to issue in titanic man. With the secularisation of modernity went a progressive endorsement of human self-determination, of people’s powers to come to know the world, master their environment and thus to control their own destiny as the ‘measure of all things’. As the heritage of the Enlightenment tradition, Modernity’s Man was a model which had stripped down the human being until he had one property alone, that of instrumental rationality, namely the capacity to maximise his . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.