Why I am Supporting the American Solidarity Party this Year

To say that this has been a difficult political year for most people is an understatement. I honestly think that both Democrats and Republicans elected the worst person they possibly could to run for president. But here we have it: Clinton versus Trump. In some ways this odd election has forced me to consider my own political allegiances, or lack thereof. You see, I am a political independent – sometimes voting Democrat and sometimes voting Republican. And this election has crystallized for me why I cannot join either party.

It is probably easier to start with my dissatisfaction with the Republican Party. It is pretty obvious to me that I cannot ever vote for Trump. He represents nearly everything I personally oppose. I don’t think I even need to supply the links of his insulting of a disabled person, sexist remarks, placating of racism and authoritarianism, do I? It is common knowledge that he has engaged in all of these activities. He has no experience for the job and I truly am scared of the idea that he would gain the nuclear codes. Church going evangelicals were not supportive of Trump in the primaries but many support him against Clinton today. However, I certainly am not one of them.

It would be unfair to attribute all his negative characteristics to the Republican Party as his nomination is quite a phenomenon. However, the ease in which he panders to racist elements in our society is disturbing because this is a long term problem for Republicans. Forget his ridiculous wall that Mexico is going to pay for. Four years ago Romney had to promise to make Hispanics “self-deport” to get the nomination. Beyond immigration issues, Republicans simply do not show a willingness to work through the tough racial issues in our society. There are some exceptions, but generally Republicans seem to tell minorities to just fall in line and forget about their concerns. I am not asking Republicans to adopt the desires of BLM. I certainly have my issues with that group. But is it too much to ask that Republicans at least acknowledge the contemporary struggles of people of color?

Throughout the years, I have never felt comfortable with the idea of identifying with Republicans. It is not that I disagree with everything they do. In fact there are issues where I am in strong agreement with the Republican platform. But not taking racial issues seriously is a deal breaker for me. I cannot become a member of a political organization that does not at least acknowledge the racial problems in our society and seriously seek solutions to them. I have voted for Republicans in years past when I thought they had the best candidate for that race, but I remain a critic of the party. Trump’s flirting with KKK and alt-right is merely an exaggeration of a common problem among Republicans.

That brings me to the Democrats. One would think that a black sociologist would naturally be a member of the Democratic party. Indeed there are certain issues where I appreciate a more progressive approach. But it turns out the Democrats are not a good fit for me either. To be specific, Democrats’ unwillingness to defend free speech and religious freedom rights unless it is for people who vote for them is particularly disturbing to me. I have come to the conclusion that the Democratic party of today does not actually believe in free speech and religious freedom. So while I feel quite strongly connected to the progressive perspective of the Democrats on certain issues, their non-support of free speech and religious freedom is a deal breaker.

I know that many disagree with my assessment of the Democratic party. I have accused the Democrats, and progressives in general, of not supporting free speech. The institution I spend the most time in, other than my home is a great example of this – higher education. It is not conservatives who are pushing safe spaces and microaggressions in attempts to shut people up on those campuses. It is progressives. It is liberal students who are more likely to say that the first amendment is outdated. Conservative speakers are disinvited or even forbidden to speak at college campuses. Even liberal speakers who are not sufficiently liberal enough are shouted down on our college campuses. Alternate viewpoints to a progressive ideology are simply not welcomed on college campuses and I have talked about such education dogma in the past. If someone believes I am being unfair putting this on progressives, then I welcome evidence indicating that conservatives are as restrictive of free speech on college campuses as progressives.

Unfortunately the tendency to stifle speech is not limited to college campuses. Remember that Brendan Eich was fired for contributing his own money to a conservative organization. It is progressives who want to outlaw hate speech, which will indeed rob us of free speech. When Michael Moore does his sting jobs, I do not see conservative prosecutors charging him with crimes. That was not the case for David Daleiden and his sting on Planned Parenthood. Although the charges were dropped, as there really was no case that could be sustained, one has to ask how much more stifling can one be to free speech than to threaten those with politically incorrect speech with jail time.

I am certain there are occasions where those on the right violate free speech. Usually when that occurs, there are many conservative politicians who speak out against such actions. This is in comparison to the relative silence of Democratic politicians. A notable exception is when President Obama affirmed free speech rights of college students. But his remarks are not the rule for Democratic politicians. Perhaps because he does not have to run for office as a Democrat again, he was free to support free speech. If that is true, then it is a sad condemnation of the lack of willingness of Democrats to support free speech.

Of my political values, free speech is one that I hold very dear. But if there is a value that I hold in higher esteem than free speech, it is freedom of religion or conscience. I believe it to be the most primary of values. When the government takes that away from us, then we truly are only a few steps away from having a thought police that must make sure that we have the “right” ideas in our society. Unfortunately the evidence is even stronger that Democrats are unwilling to support freedom of religion than it is that they will not support free speech. I am not sure whether I could become a Democrat with their unwillingness to defend the free speech rights of those they disagree with. But I am certain that their lack of support for freedom of religion or conscience for those who do not have the “right” beliefs makes it ideologically impossible for me to be at home with the Democrats.

I have criticized the tendency of Democrats and progressives on issues of supporting religious discrimination on college campuses, attacking Christian colleges and removing freedom of conscience for businesses. When I point this out, many say that if Christians merely obey the laws then they would not be punished. This simplistic approach does not take into account the way rules have a disparate impact although I suspect such critics understand disparate impact effects on rules such as voter ID laws. But rather than butt my head against that wall, let me merely point out that advocates of the policies I mentioned above always seem to go silent when people they like exercise their freedom of conscience in the public square.

These advocates are very silent when a hotel ejected an anti-gay marriage group for their views. They are silent when a church is denied an extension of its lease because of the hateful rhetoric of the pastor. They are silent when a lay pastor is fired from a job because he preached against same-sex marriage. They are silent when a landlord refuses to rent his apartment to Donald Trump supporters. They are silent when pharmacists are encouraged to use their freedom of conscience to refuse drugs to be used for the death penalty.

Of course many will state that these individuals who are rejected do not deserve to be protected. They will desperately comb through these cases to find some insignificant contrast to justify this differential treatment. Needless to say that if a hotel ejected pro-gay marriage groups, a Muslim Mosque is denied an extension of its lease, supporters of the Green party are not allowed to rent an apartment, a progressive pastor was fired from a job due to a sermon or pharmacists were encouraged not to provide abortifacients, then the reaction from these individuals would be much different. That is the point. It is not about whether you like the religion or beliefs of others. If you believe in religious freedom, then you believe in it for everyone. You do not only enforce the notion of public accommodation on conservative Christians. If you do not believe in providing freedom of conscience for everyone, then you do not believe in religious freedom. I find that Democrats, with very few exceptions, do not believe in religious freedom.

So I am stuck with two different political parties that have major deal breakers for me. If I lived in a battleground state, then I may have to stuff two socks up my nose and vote for Clinton. While she and the Democrats have no respect for religious freedom, the danger of a Trump presidency is more urgent. (Clinton also has a host of other particular issues I find distasteful as well, but as I stated she is less dangerous than Trump.) However, I live in Texas. If Texas is in danger of flipping to the Democrats, then the election is already over. So I feel a freedom to take Senator Cruz’s advice and “vote my conscience” in ways I may not feel if I lived in Florida. And while I have never voted third party for president before now, this appears to be the year to do that.

With that said, I now am happy to announce that my vote this year will go to the American Solidarity Party. I do not agree with everything promoted in ASP, but it is a party willing to address our racial divide in a meaningful way and respects religious freedom. I also appreciate the fact that this party is truly anti-big business which is something that we cannot say about either Republicans or Democrats today. So unless Trump drops out of the race or Clinton reaffirms religious freedom in a meaningful way, my vote will go to ASP. I am under no illusion that ASP will win the presidency but the more votes they gain will help them to position themselves in the coming years as a potentially viable third party competitor. Perhaps as such a competitor they may be able to influence one or both of the major political parties to move in a useful direction.

I know that most people are still committed to the two party system, even in a year like this. But if you are a never-Trump, never-Clinton type, then check out ASP. If you are a pro-life Democrat who feels that the party went too far this year, then check out ASP. If you are a Republican who cannot support Trump but you are not endeared to the hard right wing alternatives like the Constitution Party, then check out ASP. Come on in and join me. The water is fine.

My commitment to ASP is only for this presidential election. After November I will take a look at both political parties and ask some hard questions. Do Republicans want to take racial issues seriously? Are Democrats going to believe in religious freedom again? I will also take a hard look at ASP. Are they making moves to become a viable third party option? In time I may migrate back to being an independent that goes between both major parties or I may throw my full support to ASP and work to help them build something special. But those decisions can be made after November. Until then I am neither Republican nor Democrat. I am a Solidarist!! Michael Maturen for President!!

Using Critical Realism to Teach the Fundamentals of Sociological Research for Practitioners

This is the fourth blog in a series of posts about Critical Realism and research methods. Please register for my upcoming webinar on Tuesday, May 3, 2016 at 12 noon EDT. You can access the first, second, & third blogs here.

As part of my interest in using critical realism to teach sociological research methods, I drafted the following syllabus ideas. Although I haven’t yet taught this class, I’m sharing it with others who may be looking for ways to adapt their own research methods classes. I am particularly interested in connecting methods of data collection with normative assumptions and practical applications of sociological research.

I would welcome comments and questions on this draft syllabus.

Course Title: Fundamentals of Sociological Research for Practitioners

Instructor: Professor Margarita Mooney

Course Objectives:

This course has the following goals:

1) To introduce students to major philosophical perspectives that guide any empirical research project.

2) To review the basic methods of social research, including interviews, focus groups, ethnography, collecting survey data, and basic statistical analysis.

3) To discuss the evaluation and application of research findings to organizations.

Upon completing this class, students should be able to be able to identify the normative assumptions that guide their research questions, have practiced at least two methods of data collection, and understanding how to apply research to an organization. Specifically, students who take this class will learn how to:

  • Identify the philosophical and normative assumptions inherent in any research project;
  • Evaluate the strengths and limitations of various philosophical paradigms, methods, and explanations;
  • Understand the basic elements of sociological research design and data collection;
  • Design a research project for an organization (such as a non-profit, a religious congregation or a business).

Required Books:

Specific chapters from these books, and additional readings, are listed under each module below.

Module 1: Philosophical Foundations of Research (3 weeks)

Every good researcher is to some extent a good theoretician. Yet, typical approaches to research methods emphasize data collection techniques, often to the detriment of exploring the philosophical and normative assumptions made in any research project. The goal of this first module is to introduce students to various philosophical perspectives on sociological research, including positivism, post-modernism and critical realism. Topics we will cover in this module include:

  • How is ontology distinct from epistemology?
  • What are paradigms and how do they change?
  • If social science is both an empirical and social endeavor, how do we know our findings are true?
  • How do different forms of logic, including deductive, inductive and retroductive, enter into our research?
  • How do our personal experiences influence our research questions and analysis?

At the end of this module, students will write a 5-8 page review of a published book on an organization. This paper should a) assess the normative assumptions in the book; b) summarize the methods of data collection; c) reflect on the argument of the book; d) raise methodological, empirical, or ontological questions unanswered in the book.


Danermark et al., Chapters 1, 2 and 4.

Porpora, Chapters 1, 7 and 8.

Luker, Chapters 1-3.

Edwards, Chapters 1 and 2.

Module 2: Research Questions and Data Collection Methods (5 weeks)

Sociologists use numerous methods to collect data. This module will be a survey of the several research methods and will allow students to practice a few methods. In the first part of this module, we will address questions like:

  • Where do our research questions come from?
  • How do we write a literature review or theory section of a paper?

The second part of this module will provide students with an overview of sociological data collection techniques, such as:

  1. participant observation
  2. ethnography
  3. focus groups
  4. conducting and analyzing interviews
  5. action and engaged research
  6. internet research
  7. content analysis
  8. elementals of survey design
  9. analyzing survey data (primary or secondary data)

Students will be asked to pick two of the above methods and practice them, such as a) conducting an interview with a religious leader; b) engaging in an ethnographic observation of a congregation; c) analyzing secondary data from the Association of Religion Data Archives; d) designing and conducting an online survey (such as through Survey Monkey).

In the final part of this module, we will discuss: How do we analyze data and develop explanations? How much data is enough data? What do we do if our findings don’t support our expectations? How do we draw practical implications from our findings? Students will be asked to write a 5-8 page paper with the following parts:

  1. literature review and research questions;
  2. data collection;
  3. data analysis and explanation of major findings;
  4. normative assumptions and practical implications of findings.


Luker, Chapters 4-11.

Porpora, Chapters 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.

Danermark, Chapters 5, 6 and 7.

Module 3: Practical Research for Organizations (3 weeks)

Although many approaches to sociological research stop at describing empirical findings, leaders of organizations often want to know:

  • How can empirical research help me define my organization’s objectives?
  • How do I involve my own community in designing, interpreting and applying research?
  • How do I lead people towards change using empirical findings?

In this final module of this course, we will discuss more in-depth engaged research, in which the community is involved in research design, data collection and interpretation of findings. We will also discuss action research, where the goal is to directly influence an organization’s members using empirical findings.

As part of this module, students will interview a leader of an organization about a research project they would be interested in being involved in. Students will write a 5-8 page engaged or action research proposal addressing the following questions: a) What are the research questions to be addressed? b) What types of data will be collected and analyzed? c) How will the community members and leaders be involved in the various stages of research? d) What types of change do the leaders and community members hope to see as a result of this research project? e) How is this research influenced by values and norms?


  • How realism can guide attempts at systematic review.
  • Why more data and meta-analyses alone can never guide policy.
  • How to do rigorous applied social research.


Pawson, Chapters 1 and 2 and 4.

Andrew Sayer, Why Things Matter to People, Introduction.

For other suggested readings for a course like this, be sure to see my past blogs:


Incorporating Critical Realism into Research Methods Classes


5 Great Articles Using Critical Realism in Social Science Research


Books on Critical Realism and Sociological Research Methods

The Eric Walsh Test

As I have stated in an earlier post, I will from time to time put on of my Stream op-eds here. I do not answer comments at the Stream but do sometimes answer my comments here. However all comments need to conform to my policy. Hope you enjoy the post.

I bow to nobody as a protector of religious freedom and a critic of Christianophobia in our society. But I have done so with two caveats. First, I do not like to hear American Christians talk about being “persecuted.” A quick look at what is happening in the Middle East shows what happens when persecution really occurs. Second, my research indicates that people who hate Christians are willing to allow religious activities in churches and homes, so I have told Christians to stop arguing that people with Christianophobia are going to interfere with their churches.

I still maintain the first caveat; however, the case of Eric Walsh is making me reconsider the second.
Read the rest here.

Incorporating Critical Realism into Research Methods Classes

TeachingCriticaRealismThis is the third of three blogs in which I list 23 readings we could use to teach about the methodological implications of CR. Don’t forget to register for my webinar in CR & Research Methods on May 3, 2016, at 12 noon EDT (you can see the recording even if you can’t be there live). And click here to see the first blog in this series. Click here to see the second blog in this series. And click here to see the fourth. 

In my upcoming webinar on critical realism and research methods, I plan to propose 2 ways to incorporate CR into research methods classes. Remember, CR is not another form of foundationalism (the idea that there is one right way to view knowledge).  It’s not like if we don’t use CR as our meta-theory then we can’t say anything true about the world. There are plenty of similarities between CR and other theories. It’s more like CR+  (i.e., CR brings to light new perspectives) or CR-integrate (i.e., CR helps us integrate insights gained from a variety of perspectives or methods).

I hope these articles, and my webinar, show that CR takes what is useful from all methods and all perspectives. But CR also sheds new light on what we do in sociology. CR goes further into abstraction, concept development, retroductive logic, and theory building. CR thus leads to better questions, more compelling explanations, all the while being humble and open to new perspectives and knowledge.

One option to teach the methodological implications of CR is to add readings on CR to already existing courses on research methods. CR does a particularly good job of talking about how ontology (or what exists in the world, seen or unseen) is different than epistemology (which is what we observe). CR also tells us why our ontology matters for things all sociologists care about: causation (the identification of causal powers) and explanation (which includes causation and interpretation).

It’s often said that CR under-labors in good social science. A second option to teach about the methodological impactions of CR is to use CR as a framework to understand the methods and theories of good published sociology books and articles (whether or not the author identifies CR as their meta-theroetical framework).  These book chapters or articles on CR & research methods can help show how the best sociology already sounds like CR. Students can also read other perspectives on social science, such as positivism, intepretivism, pragmatism, etc. and then ask: Which perspective best explains the theory, methods, and conclusions in the best books or articles in sociology? Why? CR itself is not a method, but as the articles and book chapters below show, CR offers a better way to understand what we are really doing when we do ethnography, grounded theory, interviews, historical research, small-N case studies, mixed-methods studies, quantitive studies, or evaluation research.

Below are my favorite articles or book chapters on CR and research methods by topic. I think these articles and book chapters could be used in either type of class. These articles and book chapters are likely also helpful for your own research. This list is not comprehensive, so feel free to share with me your favorite articles or book chapters on CR & research methods which are not listed here.

And don’t forget to register for my webinar on April 28, 2016, at 12 noon EDT to learn more. You should register to listen to the recording even if you can’t be there live.

Here you go!

Overviews of CR as a research method

Sayer, Andrew. 1992. Method in Social Science: A Realist Approach. London: Routledge. Introduction and Chapter 1.

Pawson, Ray. 2016. Evidence-Based Policy: A Realist Perspective. London: Sage Publications. Chapter 2.

Edwards, P., O’Mahoney, J. and Vincent, S. eds. (2014). Studying Organizations Using Critical Realism: A Practical Guide. Oxford: Oxford University Press Chapter. 1 “CR as an Empirical Project.”

Edwards, P., O’Mahoney, J. and Vincent, S. eds. (2014). Studying Organizations Using Critical Realism: A Practical Guide. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Chapter 2 “CR, Research Techniques and Research Designs.”

CR & Ethnography

Claire Laurier Decouteau (2016) “The AART of Ethnography: A Critical Realist Explanatory Research Model.” Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour. March 2016.

Edwards, P., O’Mahoney, J. and Vincent, S. eds. (2014). Studying Organizations Using Critical Realism: A Practical Guide. Oxford: Oxford University Press Chapter 7. Chris Rees and Mark Gatenby. (2014). “Critical Realism and Ethnography.”

CR & Grounded Theory

Danermark, B. Ekström, M. Jakobsen, L. Karlsson. J.C. (1997)  Explaining Society: An Introduction to Critical Realism in the Social Sciences. London: Routledge. Chapter 6 “Theory in the Methodology of Social Science”, pp. 130-137.

Edwards, P., O’Mahoney, J. and Vincent, S. eds. (2014). Studying Organizations Using Critical Realism: A Practical Guide. Oxford: Oxford University Press Chapter 5. Steve Kempster and Ken Perry.  “Critical Realism and Grounded Theory.” 

CR & Interviews

Margarita Mooney (2016) “Moral Agency and Mental Illness.” Paper Currently Under Review. (available from the author upon request).

Edwards, P., O’Mahoney, J. and Vincent, S. eds. (2014). Studying Organizations Using Critical Realism: A Practical Guide. Oxford: Oxford University Press  Chapter 6. Chris Rees and Tony Elger. “Critical Realism and Interviewing Subjects.” 

CR & Historical-Comparative Research

George Steinmetz. (2003) “Odious Comparisons: Incommensurability, the Case Study, and Small N’s in Sociology.” Sociological Theory, Vol. 22, number 3, pp. 371-400.

George Steinmetz. (2008).  “The Colonial State as a Social Field.” American Sociological Review 73(4): pp. 589–612.

George Steinmetz. (2014). “Comparative History and its Critics: A Genealogy and a Possible Solution.” In A Companion to Global Historical Thought, edited by Prasenjit Duara, Viren Murthy and Andrew Sartori. Blackwell. Pp. 412-436.

George Steinmetz. (1998) “Critical Realism and Historical Sociology.” Comparative Studies in Society and History volume 40, number 1, pp. 170-186.

CR & Mixed Methods

Bhaskar, R. and Danermark, B. (2006). ‘Metatheory, Interdisciplinarity and Disability Research: A Critical Realist Perspective’, Scandinavian Journal of Disability Research, 8: 4, pp 278 – 297.

Danermark, Berth, et al. 2001. Explaining Society: An Introduction to Critical Realism in the Social Sciences. Routledge. Chapter 6 “Critical Methodological Pluralism” esp. Pp. 161-176.

CR & Quantitative Methods

Sayer, A. 1992. Method in Social Science: A Realist Approach. London: Routledge. Chp. 6 “Quantitative Methods in Social Science.”

Lawson, Tony. (1997). Economics and Reality. New York: Routledge. Chapter 15. “Economic Science Without Experimentation.”

Porpora, Douglas. (2015).  Reconstructing Sociology: A Critical Realist Approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  Chapter 2. “Do Realists Run Regressions?”

CR Views of Explanation, Especially as Compared to Deductive or Inductive Explanations

Lawson, T. (1997). Economics and Reality. New York: Routledge. Chapter 2. “Realism, Explanation and Science.”

Sayer, A. 1992. Method in Social Science: A Realist Approach. London: Routledge. Chapter 9. “Problems of Explanation and the Aims of Social Science.”

Danermark, Berth, et al. Explaining Society: An Introduction to Critical Realism in the Social Sciences. Routledge, 2001. Chapter 4 “Generalization, scientific inference and models for an explanatory social science” pp. 73-106-114, especially Table 4.

Realist Evaluation Research

Pawson, Ray. 2016. Evidence-Based Policy: A Realist Perspective. London: Sage Publications. Pawson, Chp. 4 “Realist Synthesis: New Protocols for Systematic Review”.

To learn more, don’t forget to register for my webinar in CR & Research Methods on April 28, 2016, at 12 noon EDT (you can see the recording even if you can’t be there live). You should also read my blog about my presentation on CR & Research Methods from IACR 2015.

5 Great Articles Using Critical Realism in Social Science Research

yale_logoIn preparation for my upcoming webinar on CR & Research Methods on May 3, 2016, at 12 noon EDT, I wrote a recent blog post about my five favorite books on showing why critical realism matters for social science research. This post is about my five favorite articles that explicitly use critical realism as a meta-theoretical framework. The third blog in this series is about incorporating critical realism into research methods classes. And the fourth is a syllabus that shows how these readings can be structured for a course. 

Three of the articles I summarize below (Danermark, Decoteau, and Mooney) use CR to answer a research question in disability studies, HIV-AIDs, and mental health (respectively). The other two articles (Steinmetz and Longhofer) use CR to address theoretical issues in a particular field (historical-comparative sociology and social work, respectively).

Each of these articles answer the all-too-common question: how does CR, which is a philosophy of social science, matter for empirical work?


  1. Decouteau. C. (2016) “The AART of Ethnography: A Critical Realist Explanatory Research Model.” Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour. March 2016.

Abstract: Critical realism is a philosophy of science, which has made significant contributions to epistemic debates within sociology. And yet, its contributions to ethnographic explanation have yet to be fully elaborated. Drawing on ethnographic data on the health-seeking behavior of HIV-infected South Africans, the paper compares and contrasts critical realism with grounded theory, extended case method, and the pragmatist method of abduction. In so doing, it argues that critical realism makes a significant contribution to causal explanation in ethnographic research in three ways: 1) by linking structure to agency; 2) by accounting for the contingent, conjunctural nature of causality; and 3) by using surprising empirical findings to generate new  theory. The paper develops the AART (abduction, abstraction, retroduction, testing) research schema and illustrates its strengths by employing a Bourdieusian field analysis as a model for morphogenetic explanation.

2. Bhaskar, R. and Danermark, B. (2006). ‘Metatheory, Interdisciplinarity and Disability Research: A Critical Realist Perspective’, Scandinavian Journal of Disability Research, 8: 4, pp 278 – 297.

ABSTRACT: Different methodological tendencies within the field of disability research are described, and the reductionism implicit in the historically dominant models is critiqued. The advantages of critical realism over rival metatheoretical positions, including empiricism, social constructionism, neo-Kantianism and hermeneutics, is shown, demonstrating in particular what is called the ‘‘double-inclusiveness’’ of critical realism. A non-reductionist schema for explanation in disability research is established, and the article argues that the phenomenon of disability has the character of a ‘‘necessarily laminated system.’’ The fruitfulness of this approach is then illustrated with an example drawn from the field, further developing the case for critical realism as an ex ante explicit metatheory and the methodology for disability research. The conclusion reconsiders the nature of metatheory and its role in research.


3. Mooney, M (2016) “Moral Agency and Mental Illness.” Paper Currently Under Review (available from the author upon request)


How might critical realism provide a better metatheoretical framework to understand the complex causality behind experiences of mental illness? How do we understand the agency of people suffering from mental illness? Prior work on critical realism and disability has argued that critical realism helps move past one or another form of reductionist explanations for illness, whether that be biological, environmental, or psychological. But using a critical realist framework to study mental illness also raises issues about the agency of people whose rational capacities are thought to be diminished. In this paper, I present the life history of one of 26 young adults I interviewed as part of a project on resilience. Because interviews reveal the complex causal forces in any person’s life, they remind us that scientific explanations should not be reductionistic. A critical realist framework further allows me to analyze people’s experiences of mental illness as expressing a form of moral agency, albeit one that is constrained by biological illness, structures of power in psychiatry, and cultural categories of mental illness diagnoses.


4. George Steinmetz, “Comparative History and its Critics: A Genealogy and a Possible Solution.” In A Companion to Global Historical Thought, edited by Prasenjit Duara, Viren Murthy and Andrew Sartori. Blackwell, pp. 412-436.


Discussions of comparison in the human and social sciences are highly polarized between defenders and critics. Some critics reject comparisons altogether, while others foreground interconnections, crossings, transfers, and transnational entanglements. German historians Hartmut Kaelble, Jürgen Kocka, and others have argued that the comparative and entangled approaches to historiography are not mutually exclusive. Historian Michael Geyer argues that there is a new “consensus” among historians around the transnational approach. The rejection of comparativism is sharply phrased in the title of the book De la comparaison à l’histoire croisée (From Comparison to Crossed History), by Michael Werner and Bénédicte Zimmermann. The specific debate between comparative and entangled history has mainly involved German and French modern historians but similar epistemological concerns have emerged among world historians, historians of modern Eurasia, and in many other disciplines. In the field of comparative literature, classic comparativism has been opposed by “entangled” approaches and criticisms of comparison per se. The US sociology field is structured by an overall polarization between qualitative and quantitative researchers, and the qualitative moiety is further divided between those who advocate traditional comparativism and those who defend singular case studies. Comparativism is so hegemonic over qualitative researchers in political science in the United States that some have spoken of the discipline’s “comparative imperative.” The epistemological upsurge in political science that started around 2000 – the so-called Glasnost–Perestroika movement – was unable to challenge the pattern of corralling qualitative researchers into using the version of the comparative method that has been so decisively criticized. Of course, the willingness to question comparison varies across the social science disciplines. Cultural anthropologists, for example, rejected standard versions of comparison even earlier and more decisively than historians….the last two sections of the chapter develop a response to these criticisms. With respect to the incommensurabilist critique, I will argue (like Weber and other neo-historicists in the first decades of the twentieth century) that we can preserve the idea of unique or unprecedented events without relinquishing the ambition of explaining such events. Rather than relying on Rickert and Weber, however, I will base this argument in the present-day “critical realist” philosophy of science.


5. Longhofer, Jerry and Floresh, Jerry.  2012. “The Coming Crisis in Social Work: Some Thoughts on Social Work and Science.” Research on Social Work and Practice. 22 (5): 499-519.


In this essay, the authors consider the challenge made by two keynote speakers at recent social work research conferences, one in the United States and the other in Europe. Both spoke of a knowledge crisis in social work. Both John Brekke (Society for Social Work and Research) and Peter Sommerfeld (First Annual European Conference for Social Work Research) proposed some version of realism as a solution to the crisis. The authors deepen the argument for realism, however, by discussing how a critical realist perspective allows us to rethink positivist and conventionalist assumptions about the fact/value relation. Using a critical realist philosophy of social science, the authors discuss how social work has taken up positivism and myriad forms of conventionalism and also identify how practical knowledge gradually loses its place and thus contribute to social work’s ongoing knowledge crisis. The authors then offer a way of thinking about practice. The authors will consider forms of practice knowledge and propose that social work has four kinds that unfold in essentially open systems: discursive, visual, embodied, and liquid systems, and that each of these have both tacit and explicit dimensions. These forms of practice, moreover, are inevitably situated in theory-to-practice gaps (the authors call them phenomenological practice gaps), which are the source of social work’s knowledge crisis. The authors conclude with a discussion of the role of reflexivity in a science of social work.


To learn more, don’t forget to register for my webinar in CR & Research Methods on April 28, 2016, at 12 noon EDT (you can see the recording even if you can’t be there live). You should also read my blog about my presentation on CR & Research Methods from IACR 2015.