International Association of Critical Realism Conference 2013

Dictionary Series - Philosophy: philosophy

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the annual International Association of Critical Realism conference. Happily (for me) it was held right here in Nottingham, after recent years of being located in South Africa, Brazil, and other far-flung places.

Critical realism (CR) is a philosophical school of thought founded in the 1970s by Roy Bhaskar, and widely developed by authors such as Margaret Archer, Andrew Sayer, Tony Lawson, and Alan Norrie. A good number of these esteemed people were in attendance at the event, and it was thrilling to be able to meet them, speak with them and hear them share their groundbreaking ideas.

Originating as a philosophy of science that embraced the advances, but challenged the limitations and oversights of, both positivism and post-modernism, CR has been applied widely across disciplines, including sociology, economics, psychology, organization studies, and entrepreneurship. I gave a presentation in the social ontology track on how it may be used to develop intersectionality theory, a critical feminist perspective that seeks to understand how systems of oppression intersect in people’s experiences. I also met a few other critical realist feminists (!) and think that the seeds of a CR feminist network could be germinating.

One of the most beneficial sessions of the conference was the workshop on the practical application of CR in research. As a philosophy of science, it does not prescribe specific research methods, but offers instead a methodology based upon which one can select or develop of methods consistent with CR. I used this workshop, as well as a couple of eye-opening conversations with brilliant CR scholars Douglas Porpora and Steve Fleetwood, to glean some ideas for how to approach the complicated data analysis portion of my thesis.

As President of the IACR, Alan Norrie, pointed out in the closing remarks of the conference, one of the best features of CR is its sheer scope. The full critical realist toolkit has within it concepts that can be used for understanding the building blocks of society all the way through to utopian thinking. And during the conference’s three days of workshops, paper presentations, keynote speeches, and informal discussions, the whole breadth of these exciting possibilities were explored.