Critical realism: what you should know and how to apply it



Lawani A (2021) Critical realism: what you should know and how to apply it. Qualitative Research Journal, 21 (3), pp. 320-333.

Purpose The purpose of this paper is to discuss the critical realism (CR) philosophical viewpoint and how it can be applied in qualitative research. CR is a relatively new and viable philosophical paradigm proposed as an alternative to the more predominant paradigms of positivism, interpretivism and pragmatism. This paper reviews the concept, its benefits and limitation. It goes further to provide an example of how CR is used as a philosophical and methodological framework with the systems thinking theory to applied qualitative research. Design/methodology/approach A study of project management challenges in a Nigerian government organisation is used to demonstrate a qualitative research approach, which includes a coding process and data analysis that is consistent with CR ontology and epistemology. Findings CR focuses primarily on closed systems. However, a more accurate explanation of reality is obtained in addition to the identification of contextual causal mechanisms in the context of study when a general systems theory is applied. Research limitations/implications The knowledge about the nature of relationships obtained in the context of study may not necessarily be replicated in another context. However, this paper elucidates a CR process that is generalisable by demonstrating how a theory is applied in a different context. Originality/value The paper demonstrates how systems theory is used to understand interactions in a CR paradigm. It engages with CR approach critically and illustrates a clear example of how CR can be applied in social research

Critical realism; Systems thinking; Data analysis; Case study

Qualitative Research Journal: Volume 21, Issue 3

Publication date31/08/2021
Publication date online31/12/2020
Date accepted by journal01/11/2020

People (1)


Dr Ama Lawani

Dr Ama Lawani

Lecturer in Project/Ops Management, Management, Work and Organisation