Saturday, 18 December 2010

Critical realism pondered

I think the term 'critical' is about responding to criticisms. In IS philosophy, according to John Mingers (2004), critical realism seems to be a response to criticisms of an empirical and naturalist view of science. Mingers says that the original aims of critical realism were
"(i) to re-establish a realist view of being in the ontological domain whilst accepting the relativism of knowledge as socially and historically conditioned in the epistemological domain; and
(ii) to argue for a critical naturalism in social science."
In a context where research has been of machines, of software, of hard systems with less of a focus on people, I can see how there might be a realist approach that was closer to positivism, and I'm finding it a fine line to distinguish between positivism and realism. I had the impression that critical realism was a step further away from positivism, and a compromise between positivist and constructionist approaches. I find support in Mingers' statement
"The major advantage of a critical realist approach is that it maintains reality whilst still recognizing the inherent meaningfulness of social interaction."
I like the idea that critical realists "want to get beneath the surface to understand and explain why things are as they are, to hypothesise the structures and mechanisms that shape observable events. "(p100) because that's the way I thought I was working, so I thought I was using a critical realist approach.

Mingers, J. 2004. Real-Izing Information Systems: Critical Realism as an Underpinning Philosophy for Information Systems. Information and Organization, 14(2): 87-103. at

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