orgtheory.net

united against critical realism

The orgtheory crew hails from across the globe, our methods range from computer simulations to ethnography, and we have varying levels of tolerance for Graham Peterson. But do you know what we all agree on? That’s right, critical realism is lame. I was reminded of this when Kieran started a critical realism flame war on Twitter this evening, in response to Phil Gorski’s essay defending CR in the most recent Contemporary Sociology. Each tweet is a one inch punch of academic truth.

For previous spiking the ball on Bhaskar, click here.

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Written by fabiorojas

September 4, 2013 at 2:32 am

29 Responses

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  1. c’mon fabio! what’s with the fluff pieces? where’s the sociological analysis of the upcoming invasion of syria?

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    anon

    September 4, 2013 at 6:19 am

  2. Wow, the contributors to this blog are really pathetic. Since when did bad one liners on twitter take precedence over thoughtful debate and analysis? Kieran, please consider a line of work that does not require deep thought. Or if you decide to make jokes, please make sure that they are actually funny.

    By the way, I’m not even a fan of critical realism. I am just utterly confused how all of you are professional academics.

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    thisblogisawasteoftime

    September 4, 2013 at 6:43 am

  3. Y u no give professional treatment to everything you say on the internet!?!?!

    No but seriously. That’s precisely what the academy needs more of: a sense of seriousness about itself and more taboos. And in particular, sociology could use more moral glorying and indignation ala @anon and @thisblogisawasteoftime.

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    Graham Peterson

    September 4, 2013 at 7:26 am

  4. Yes, what academia needs more of is humorless pretension.

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    JD

    September 4, 2013 at 8:13 am

  5. Thanks man. Good luck in the job market, since it is clear that you care more about trolling blog posts than helping people or doing research.

    For reals, how great is it that you can just rip stuff off from the internet and think that you are funny?

    My main point was that if you’re going to make jokes as an academic, at least make it funny. And if you’re going to criticize an entire school of thought, please do more than write jokes. Sociology should be funny. But I mean actually funny, not cheesy one-liners. Excuse me for having an opinion on humor.

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    thisblogisawasteoftime

    September 4, 2013 at 8:22 am

  6. Time to clean up my RSS feeds.

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    Sebastian H.

    September 4, 2013 at 8:30 am

  7. Who are you talking to?

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    JD

    September 4, 2013 at 8:31 am

  8. Note to self: Don’t post stuff on the internet, untill you have analyzed all major wars and well, all major sociological issues in the world.

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    Anonymous

    September 4, 2013 at 8:52 am

  9. World Star!!! World Star!!! But seriously, it would be nice to hear Kieran’s take on this. I mean, I get it, he has access to the philosophy community that most of us don’t, but it would be interesting to know why, beyond “philosophers think he’s a joke,” it is all bollocks and we shouldn’t care.

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    Rich

    September 4, 2013 at 11:50 am

  10. I, for one, am glad to see some gender diversity among the membership of the Why Don’t You Blog What I Want To Read? Club. Fabio, I’m happy to step down from my role as Chair to let you take the reigns. Or Kieran, of course.

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    tina

    September 4, 2013 at 1:37 pm

  11. I meant reins, obvs.

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    tina

    September 4, 2013 at 1:40 pm

  12. I’m really curious how many orgtheory commenters will know the “world star” reference…..

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    J

    September 4, 2013 at 1:45 pm

  13. Thank you, Kieran! Can I write a large check for your defense fund? Can I bake you cookies?

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    Randy

    September 4, 2013 at 2:02 pm

  14. Meanwhile, the other Brit (Coase) is turning in his grave, as nobody has made a comment about his passing.

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    Guillermo

    September 4, 2013 at 2:25 pm

  15. Anybody have a mop? Lots of tears in here.

    Coase, like his colleagues at Chicago economics, and unlike a delightful minority of commenters on orgtheory, had a sense of humor and could handle himself in a debate without lecturing his colleagues about their personalities.

    Keiran’s twitter feed is hilarious — the #NSAlovepoems are highly recommended.

    And I read the Critical Realism wiki after seeing his posts. Bear in mind I worked for a rhetorician as an undergraduate who taught me not to sneer at postmodernism and give any theory a fair shake. That does not change the fact that the wiki sounds like something an undergraduate on mescaline wrote.

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    Graham Peterson

    September 4, 2013 at 2:43 pm

  16. Morgan and Winship are at work on the second edition of Morgan and Winship (2007), and we are about to rewrite and update the following position on critical realism (from pages 234-6). I would welcome comments on this thread or via direct email about how we might want to revise in light of (a) new work since we wrote this in 2006 or so and (b) anything that we got wrong back then. Thanks to anyone who reads. (And stay tuned for a quite substantially rewritten Morgan and Winship book in 2014.

    “If a mechanism is designed to explain how an actuality comes about, then all seems to be fine with this perspective.As best we can tell, Woodward (2003; Section 4.6) takes this position, noting the need for only a rather limited “backing” relationship between causal claims and laws. But if one instead maintains that mechanisms are the key to the explanation of causal tendencies only — such that the validity of a mechanism cannot be undermined by its inability to explain anything in particular — then this line of thought leads all too easily to the critical realist perspective on mechanisms. We suspect that most empirical social scientists would find critical realism uninspiring. Critical realism’s pioneer, Roy Bhaskar, writes with regard to mechanisms:

    The world consists of mechanisms not events. Such mechanisms combine to generate the flux of phenomena that constitute the actual states and happenings of the world. They may be said to be real, though it is rarely that they are actually manifest and rarer still that they are empirically identified by men. They are the intransitive objects of scientific theory. They are quite independent of men — as thinkers, causal agents and perceivers. They are not unknowable though knowledge of them depends upon a rare blending of intellectual, practico-technical and perceptual skills. They are not artificial constructs. But neither are they Platonic forms. For they can become manifest to men in experience. Thus we are not imprisoned in caves, either of our own or of nature’s making. We are not doomed to ignorance. But neither are we spontaneously free. This is the arduous task of science: the production of the knowledge of those enduring and continually active mechanisms of nature that produce the phenomena of the world. (Bhaskar 1998[1997]:34–5)

    If the social sciences sign on to the idea that mechanisms are general and transcendentally valid explanations that may not explain any particularities, we will be led inevitably to a fundamental premise of critical realism: The mechanisms that constitute causal explanations are irreducible to each other, even if they are nested in each other. This position is summarized by Andrew Collier (2005:335): “Critical realism defends the idea that reality is many-layered, and each level has its own kind of laws, irreducible to those of any other layer.”

    For the social sciences, one might argue that such an irreducibility presumption could be unifying in offering protection against incursions from biology and physics. But, if accepted, it would undermine the work of social scientists who have at least some interest in developing causal claims that unite levels of analysis. If irreducibility were accepted, how then could methodological individualists such as Goldthorpe criticize those who seek to develop macrolevel causal claims with only minimally sufficient reliance on proximate actors and institutions (e.g., Alexander 2003)?Methodological individualism is the basic position of Goldthorpe (2000) and Hedström (2005), as influenced heavily by the scholarship of Raymond Boudon (see Boudon 1998 and citations therein). Gorski (2004), for example, lays out a constructive realist model of explanation, built up from the causal process perspective of Wesley Salmon, that is completely at odds with the perspective of Goldthorpe (2000).Gorski (2004) endorses the causal process model of Wesley Salmon, as developed in Salmon’s work from the 1970s and early 1980s (see Salmon 1984). Given the ways in which Salmon’s work has developed since then, turning completely toward causal mechanical ideas based on the notion of conserved quantities, his ideas now seem completely at odds with Gorski’s statement that “Social science is `nothing but history.’ The real error was ever to think it could be anything more” (Gorski 2004:30). But Goldthorpe (2000) questions the explanatory utility of all secondhand historical analysis, in essence rejecting the capacity of historical analysis, as practiced in sociology, to sustain causal claims of any form. If Goldthorpe were to sign on to irreducibility, which we doubt he would, he could not thereby criticize macrosocial claims of causal relationships.

    Given that these extreme positions on mechanisms in the philosophy of science are likely to be unhelpful to practicing social scientists, and given that we suspect Goldthorpe, Hedström, and others in the generative mechanisms movement would agree, which type of philosophy of science gives the appropriate backing for causal analysis? If anything, it is the philosophical writing on the counterfactual model that provides a solid and pragmatic foundation, as best represented by Woodward (2003). The key to understanding why this is the case is to consider alternative ways to adjudicate between the rival mechanisms proposed by alternative investigators, which we turn to next.”

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    Steve Morgan

    September 4, 2013 at 2:49 pm

  17. @ J: “I’m really curious how many orgtheory commenters will know the “world star” reference….”

    I wonder how many orgtheory BLOGGERS will know the “world star” reference? My two cents: Fabio: No. Brayden: Yes. Kieran: Maybe. Omar: I believe he just single-handedly beat down a crew outside the McDonalds on S. Michigan (i.e., he’s ON World Star, bra).

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    TR

    September 4, 2013 at 3:18 pm

  18. Don’t count me out boys. If I hadn’t been starting a new job, I would have LOLZ the world star reference yesterday. But go ahead and keep counting just the boys if you want.

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    Jenn Lena

    September 4, 2013 at 3:47 pm

  19. Guilty as charged. But at least I can understand World Star when I look it up in Google. Gorski (page 668) tells me that I need CR if I want a “post-poststructuralist vision of social science.” I can barely handle meat and potatoes hypotheses and evidence.

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    fabiorojas

    September 4, 2013 at 4:00 pm

  20. No offense intended Lady J…see “orgtheory BLOGGERS”…or are you one too? OK, lemme fix that: “My two cents: Fabio: No. Brayden: Yes. Kieran: Maybe. Omar: I believe he just single-handedly beat down a crew outside the McDonalds on S. Michigan (i.e., he’s ON World Star, bra). ^Jenn: Captured Omar delivering beatdown on her phone, is overheard yelling, “please hammer, don’t hurt ’em” and “this is going on World Star,” and then POSTED it to World Star.” Much respek. Much respek.

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    TR

    September 4, 2013 at 4:06 pm

  21. It can’t be a world star thread without me coming hard, TR. You know how we do.
    And I’m a former guest blogger. Check it before you wreck it, bro.

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    Jenn Lena

    September 4, 2013 at 4:31 pm

  22. White affluent race police screeching around the corner in 3.. 2.. 1..

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    Graham Peterson

    September 4, 2013 at 4:36 pm

  23. […] as Fabio has promoted some off-the-cuff remarks I made on Twitter about Critical Realism, I suppose I should say […]

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  24. I actually was going to mention Jenn Lena as an obvious contender at picking up the reference, so i’m glad she has been reading the thread. But I was thinking more in terms of the people who study management and/or teach at b-schools etc etc feeling completely out of the loop.

    In any event, awesome reference.

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    J

    September 4, 2013 at 4:59 pm

  25. “White affluent race police screeching around the corner in 3.. 2.. 1..”

    Graham Peterson,

    Here are the two things I want you to work on:

    1. stop race-baiting (or at least be more subtle/clever)

    2. in forging your intellectual identity in the blogosphere, stop taking cues from 1980s pro wrestling “heels.” Believe it or not, you can be heard without being whiny or obnoxious.

    p.s. note that I am only reacting to what you actually wrote, not inferring anything about your personality

    Like

    Bhaskareezy

    September 4, 2013 at 5:49 pm

  26. If I sit on your knee, can I have more advice?

    *leans back and appreciates hypocrisy in sociologist calling someone else whiny*

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    Graham Peterson

    September 4, 2013 at 6:10 pm

  27. Like

    Graham Peterson

    September 4, 2013 at 6:14 pm

  28. […] continuing brouhaha over Fabio’s (fallaciously premised) post*, and Kieran’s clarification and response has actually been much more informative than I […]

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