Critical realism and the causal explanation of human action
  • Room 006, Babbage Building

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Dave Elder-Vass is a prominent figure in Critical Realism and has developed theories that will be of key interest to those undertaking projects using a realist methodology or are trying to gain a deeper understanding about the diverse and complex ways people respond to interventions. 

Dave's work on ‘retrodiction’ not only gives us a conceptual tool for identifying mechanisms [predicted and not predicted], but also helps us to think about the relationship between mechanisms and the entities they operate within. Dave has developed some key ideas around how we can understand causality, structure, agency, entities and emergence and will help challenge how we understand individual responses to interventions in complex systems. As well as health, social and psychological sciences Dave's work will appeal to colleagues in other faculties and/or departments interested in critical realism or perhaps other areas he writes about such as the digital economy.

In this seminar Dave will look at why causation is a controversial word in the social sciences. Positivists are often accused of a simplistic approach to causation that does not work in the social world, and in response interpretivists have often substituted hermeneutic accounts for explanatory accounts of social action. This paper explains the critical realist alternative, which reinstates causality but in a more sophisticated form, in which people, social structures and material things are all understood as having causal powers that interact to produce social actions and social events. It will examine both how social structures can influence human action and also how human action itself can be explained using a synthesis of Bourdieu's account of habitus and Archer's theory of reflexivity. Habitus and reflexivity, it will argue, refer to different moments of the same process and once we understand how they fit together we can see both the pathways for social influence and the opportunities for individual decision making more clearly.

Email laura.gill@plymouth.ac.uk to book a place. As space is limited, you are advised to book early to avoid disappointment.

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