Explaining Society: Critical Realism in the Social Sciences

Explaining Society: Critical Realism in the Social Sciences

Explaining Society: Critical Realism in the Social Sciences

Explaining Society: Critical Realism in the Social Sciences


This book will be immensely valuable for students and researchers in social science, sociology and philosophy in that it connects methodology, theory and empirical research. It provides an innovative picture of what society and social science is, along with the methods used to study and explain social phenomena.



Our concern in this book is twofold. The main concern is to discuss some methodological implications of a critical realist approach to social science. However, this cannot be done without an introduction to the basic ideas in this approach. We therefore devote the first part of the book to introducing some of the most elementary elements of critical realism. But we would like to emphasize that in this book, although we take our point of departure from a specific philosophical perspective, we do not try to either develop or offer new interpretations of this perspective. What we try to do is to address some of its fundamental ontological and epistemological claims, and show how these by necessity have implications for investigating social phenomena.

Critical realism is not a homogeneous movement in social science. There are many different perspectives and developments. For instance, some authors discuss it from a philosophical angle, while others try to ground an analysis of current social phenomena in the approach. As will be obvious to the reader of this book, we try to avoid the current philosophical discussion revolving around critical realism; this is not within the scope of the book. So the more advanced philosophical reader will find nothing new regarding these issues. Instead the reader will find that we argue that the methodological implications of the basic ideas of critical realism make a difference in regard to issues such as generalization, scientific inferences, explanations, the role of theory, and so forth.

Our main arguments in this book can be summarized in the following way: critical realism helps us to develop and more sharply argue for, first, that science should have generalizing claims. Second, the explanation of social phenomena by revealing the causal mechanisms which produce them is the fundamental task of research. Third, in this explanatory endeavour abduction and retroduction are two very important tools. The latter is closely related to critical realism, and is a method for finding the prerequisites or the basic conditions for the existence of the phenomenon studied. Fourth, the role of theory is decisive for research. However, few would dispute this claim. In this book we emphasize that it is a claim which should be taken more seriously than is often the case, in the sense that theory should guide research and not be subordinate to specific methodological rules of how research should be conducted. Fifth, research involves a wide range of methodological tools, and we have to use many of these tools in a

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