Group's tentative objectives
'Realist biographies' group explores the possibilities, advantages and limitations of connecting critical social realism and the tradition of biographical research in social sciences. Developed in the 1980s and 1990s by theorists inspired by the work of Roy Bhaskar, critical realism relies on notions of a stratified ontology and an anti-empiricist reinterpretation of causality.
The recent critical realist research by Margaret Archer postulates that human reflexivity is the central mechanism mediating the influence of objective social and cultural conditions. This theoretical assertion offers a natural link with the tradition of biographical research. For Archer (2007:98), "a full understanding of how actors reflexively make their way through the world, dealing as they must with at least some of its social properties and powers, requires an exploration of their life and work histories”. Turning to the people and their biographical experiences is based on the assumption that “explaining what people do…involves reference to agents’ subjective and reflexive formulation of personal projects – in the light of their objective circumstances.” (Archer 2003: 5).
In this discussion group we are interested if and how far the critical realist ontology can be integrated with the tradition of biographical research. What critical realists can learn from the methodological experiences of biographical researchers? And vice versa: how methodological debates within biographical approach - in particular the discussion between 'constructivists' and 'realists' - can be enriched by the strong ontological assumptions of critical realism?