Reflections from Research Practice

Realism and its reality, coming to know this, and working out its mechanisms of socio-material change




realism, ontology, explanation, change


Scientific and Critical Realism attracts increasing attention as a new paradigm of explanation, for many empirical knowledge disciplines. This new approach to explaining our social and material worlds is underpinned by its ‘depth ontology’, encompassing the reality of our senses to the more meta-physical.

In this article we introduce and explore this ‘depth ontology’, through rich illustration of these alternative ideas about reality in context of our everyday and early career research experiences. We explain and clarify the realist compromise - between its positivist and constructivist ancestry. We then trace the flow of these philosophical premises into conceptual variation evident around the realist sense of ‘mechanism’, in current evaluation research literature.

To further clarify its possible meanings, this synthesis contextualises past and current realist thinking in light of historical ideas of change from Aristotle and Plato, as improvement and degeneration. This article offers a new view on realism and its foundations then, to aid readers’ own understandings and explorations of the natural and social reasons for existence and its changes, sitting in the depths of the universe of the realist.


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A man's reflection in a cracked mirror