In my previous essay, I discussed the concept of what is knowledge? And how is it developed? I looked at the rationalist and empiricist schools of thoughts and discussed which aspects I agreed upon and which I did not. I concluded from my previous essay that my research and I do not fit in neither the empiricist or rationalist schools of thought. I then went on to look at my own project and how I would develop knowledge which lead me to works of modern philosophers such as Roy Bashkar and Critical Realism which I intend to discuss in greater detail within this essay.
Firstly, I will give a brief overview of my research project. The key aim of my research project is to assess the readiness of the UK manufacturing sector to transit to into Industry 4.0 with a particular reference to the automotive sector. I aim to disentangle a number of key issues around what objectives, actions and initiatives need to be considered as part of a revised industrial strategy that is supportive of a new smart, advanced and competitive automotive sector in the UK so as to secure jobs and prosperity post-Brexit. My research project will utilise a mixed method approach to research in gathering and analysing data.
A key reason that drew to me Critical realism was the fact I am conducting a mix methods research project and I needed to find some sort of middle ground that could bridge positivisms/ empiricism with interpretivism. An important aspect of Critical realism is that it maintains a strong emphasis on ontology (the study of being) resulting in the critical realist accepting the fact the world exists independently of what we think of it (Bhasker 1998). (Bhasker 1998) presents the argument that knowledge has two distinct categories transitive and intransitive objects of knowledge. The transitive dimension of knowledge is knowledge that is constructed by human activity “by science” which include theories, facts methods used by researchers (Mingers 2006). Intransitive objects of knowledge include knowledge that is not constructed by human activity but is independent of such activities these include death, gravity etc (Mingers 2006).
Critical realism not only distinguishes between distinguishes between transitive and intransitive objects of knowledge critical realism separates objects of knowledge into three categories the real, the actual, and the empirical (Bhaskar 1975). Bhaskar (1975) defined “real” as one “real” world were researchers do not automatic access to it or what they can observe. It is important to state that the “real” and “actual” aspects of objects in critical realism assumes that not all structure of the objects that we experience may be observable (Mingers 2006). Objects can either be physical or social, they each distinct structures and powers that interact in a particular way that causes change (Bhaskar 1975). These may hypothetically exist even if left untouched. The “actual” refers to changes that take place as a result of the powers of the object being activated (Mingers 2006). The empirical aspect of objects of knowledge is defined as the domain of observation (Mingers 2006).
Critical realists advocate that unobservable events cause the observable ones. Thus, the social world can only be understood if one understands the systems and structures that generate the unobservable events (Danermark, et al., 2005). Critical realism suggests that social structures cannot exist independently, rather they are the effects and occurrence of the activities they govern (Mingers 2014). Social structures enable social activities, the activities themselves are therefore reproduced or transformed as a result of social structures. Culture and society are a direct result of human activity and society is continuously changing due to the nature of human actions. Humans shape society, therefore affecting human activities (Kaidesoja 2013 p134).
As you can derive from the ephemeral introduction into critical realism, you can gain a sense of how critical realist perceive social systems and structures as inherently fluid, collaborative and open. A key element of critical realism which encouraged me to further research into whether this school of though was suitable for my project was the concept that the researcher distinguishes and separates the event from it causes, Critical realists aim to require an in-depth understanding of any social situation, going beyond just observation instead investigating the mechanisms, systems and structures behind the event (Danermark, et al., 2005). Within my research project I aiming to something similar I intend to firstly research the causes of the changes within the market. Similarly, critical realism recognises that observable events that are being generated from complex interactions of mechanisms can give the researcher information on the existence of unobservable entities (Zacharidiadis, et al., 2010). Allowing the researcher to gain a better understand how things would have been, if those mechanisms did not interact in the manner which they did (Zacharidiadis, et al., 2010). Another aspect of critical realism that fits well with my research project is that critical realists deem that observable events, have nothing to do with what causes something to happen instead placing greater emphasis on finding mechanisms and how they interact within the setting that causes a change to happen (Sayer 2000). Critical realism shares the same view that social phenomena are concept reliant and need interpretive understanding. However, critical realism, does not exclude causal explanation (Zacharidiadis, et al., 2010).
Although critical realism fit well within my proposed research topic it is worth mentioning it is relatively a new style of research and has come under heavy criticism. A major criticism of Roy Bhaskar’s critical realism is that notion of truth. Bhaskar’s Critical Realism states that there is a complex and stratified world with multiple viewpoints through which it can be seen and knowledge is relative to, time, place society, culture etc. (epistemological relativism) so recognising true or false statements may only be seen as temporary and relative to a particular time and context.