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The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Monday, 9 September 2013

What's the point of Critical Realism?

Just in case you missed it, over at orgtheory.net there is a great calling out by Kieran Healey of the  sociological adherents of Critical Realism. Predictably the CR true believers and fellow-travellers resort to the tactic of the spectacular dive, rolling over clutching their ankles crying foul beloved of certain Southern European football teams in the 1970s before they decided to actually play football and thus wipe the floor with the rest of us. My gut instinct is that the latter outcome is not one that the CR groupies are likely to realize.
 I should say that my own engagement with CR has been limited to  asking myself whether there was anything as a sociologist that I would do differently if I took  CR seriously. Being unable to find a single thing I decided that I could safely ignore Bhaskar, Harre & Co and carry on as normal. I haven't discovered anything in the storm of words provoked by Healey's intervention that makes me think I was mistaken.
Also worth an honourable mention amongst the supporting gallery of commentators is Cornell's Stephen Morgan who has some nice remarks on the brain-dead parrots who repeat stuff about "general linear-reality" "variable sociology and its ontological assumptions" etc. We need more people in the discipline like Professors Healey  and Morgan who are prepared to stand up and call it the way that they see it. There is far too much seriously intellectually weak drivel in sociology that only survives because the purveyors of it won't or are unable to survive outside of their climate controlled ecological niche. They need to be smoked out and their arguments exposed to the cold light of reason and evaluated empirically (if there are any actual empirical claims). If this leads to frayed tempers, bruised egos and tears before bed-time so be it. The argument, which I've heard a lot recently, that sociologists shouldn't air their dirty linen in public is so much hog-wash. Unaired linen rots and produces rank odours. How are you going to build a discipline with that kind of foundation?


Anonymous said...

A characteristically robust blast against CR - I'm just glad that the title of my own very tentative and fumbling venture into the field (examining CR's potential contribution to entrepreneurship research) had it's question mark firmly attached - though not everyone seems to notice. My only quibble, apart from the concluding mixed metaphors, is whether your critique might benefit from a bit more nuance (OK, maybe not). But having followed up the interesting blog post you mentioned, I came across a thoughtful follow-up by Omar Lizardo that distinguished different gradations of CR - from the kind of propositions about reality that you have to be insane to deny (literally), to those that work in the opposite direction.

Colin said...

Hi R and welcome! This one didn't really take off, judging by the number of UPVs.

I don't have a critique of CR, nuanced or otherwise, just an observation that what I have read of it, which isn't a lot, wouldn't lead me to do anything that I don't already do. Thus it looks as though I can safely ignore it. I know Wittgenstein insisted that philosophy leaves everything the same, but this is a hard line to push if you want social scientists to pay attention. There has to be a pay-off otherwise why, given the opportunity cost, should they bother?

I don't see that Lizardo adds anything much of value, in fact he concedes all of Healy's points and then does a bit of special pleading. What am I missing?

I do confess to getting a bit irritated by the assumptions that CR people seem to make about what others believe as well as by their undiscriminating use of terms like "positivist" and "empiricist" which they never seem to define.

The paper by Chris Bonnell et al is a great calling out on this kind of thing as well as a number of other misconceptions:

By the way, where is the mixed metaphor? I would have thought that dirty linen was exactly the sort of think that would find its way into hogwash. Far better for the pigs than dead sheep.