The Central Tenets of Critical Realism: An Introduction
  • Bircham, ITTC Building, Plymouth Science Park, Derriford, Plymouth

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This presentation by Sarah Rybczynska-Bunt is jointly hosted by the IHC Developing and Evaluating Complex Interventions (DECI) Group, led by and the Community and Primary Care Research Group seminar series, co-ordinated by

A question that comes up frequently for researchers using realist methods is: what is the difference between realism and critical realism (CR), and should I be interested? 

The answer to the first part of this question is simple, there are few differences. Pawson and Tilley (1997) are broadly influenced by Bhaskar’s CR theory, and ‘Realist Evaluation’ might be seen as an attempt to make the approach much more accessible for health researchers. Realist evaluation has gained traction in health services research; particularly in helping us contextualise trial results, but it is sometimes lacking, in Sarah's view, in how it understands mechanisms for change. 

The obscurity of Bhaskar’s writings tend to be a barrier for researchers to take up the approach; however, behind such obscurity lies frameworks of understanding that are most helpful in health services research; particularly when the researcher must give some reasonable thought to the transformatory potential for individuals or relatively static health/social systems. 

This session will explain some of the key concepts of CR and make the case for: multi-layered and interdisciplinary approach to research, the researcher as a philosophical under-labourer, Retroduction, the transformatory model of social action, and the four planar of social being. This session will also present critiques and divisions within CR and draw on examples of the Engager Intervention to demonstrate how the CR helps us think more deeply about a participants response to an intervention. 

All welcome! To book a place, please email

This research was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care South West Peninsula (NIHR CLAHRC South West Peninsula). The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.

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