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  • 00:02


  • 00:11

    NICK EMMEL: Hi.My name is Nick Emmel.I'm a teacher and researcher in the School of Sociologyand Social Policy at the University of Leeds.In this tutorial, I am going to talkabout realist methodologies.And what I'd like to talk about are, firstof all, how we define realism.Secondly, to move on from that, to thinkabout how we understand theory-- particularly,within the context of a realist methodology--and then to understand the practical implicationsof that theory for doing qualitative researching.

  • 00:48

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: Before I talk about realism, I justwant to make a distinction between method and methodology.Methodology I see as the bridge between the ways in which weunderstand the world to be, the way we believe the world to be,and the ways in which we think it legitimate to investigatethe world.

  • 01:10

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: In that distinction between methodologyand methods, methods I want to characterizeas the tools, the techniques that weuse to investigate the social world that we'rein and the questions that we're interested to investigate.So let me start with a ontological statementabout what is realism, what I believe realism to be,or what realists believe realism to be.

  • 01:38

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: Realism and the real exist independent of our knowing it.So I'll just say, for instance, that the earth rotatesaround the sun.Now, the earth rotates around the sunwhether I know it happens or it doesn't happen.It simply does.So along with that ontological statementabout the real being independent of my knowing it,about epistemological relativism that we can't everget to the real.

  • 02:08

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: We can only seek to make claims about the real,that we can construct a statement based upon theories.There's a third ontological statementthat I just want to make, and thatis a statement about the depths of realist ideas.So realists make claims to a depth ontology.And if I characterize depth ontology in comparisonwith a flat ontology-- the ontology of empiricism--the depth ontology sees that we can't observe thingsin the world and that the observation of those thingsprovides us with mere descriptions of whatis happening in the world.

  • 02:49

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: It doesn't provide us with an opportunityto understand the forces, the liabilities,the dispositions that are play in shaping those observationsthat we're seeing.But often, those powers, liabilities, and dispositionsare not visible.They can't be seen.They work in a variety of different waysupon regularities that we see happeningin particular circumstances.

  • 03:14

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: And that depth ontology, that makes a claim that the shapingof the world which we investigate,of the regularities that we are interested to investigatein social process-- the actual-- happens through processes,through mechanisms at play at the depths of the real--where it's important to recognize that,unlike an empirical account in research which would be ableto express to describe, realist research is seeking to explainthose powers, those liabilities-- many of which,as I've suggested, cannot be seen.

  • 03:60

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: And so therefore, we have to bringto bear in our research endeavor theories invariablyabout what those powers, those liabilities, those dispositionsare.OK.So to summarize these ideas about realist methodology,I've suggested that the real is independent of our knowing it;that to get at, to understand the real,we have to bring theory to bear.

  • 04:30

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: We have to bring ideas into relationwith the empirical work that we do in research.And at the same time, I've also suggested that the real cannotsimply be read off the social world through measurementand observation.

  • 04:50

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: It requires that we bring these theories to bearto understand the liabilities, the powers, the dispositionsat play that shape the social processes that we'reinterested to investigate.And what I'd like to move on to doing is talking about theoriesand, through discussing what I mean by theories,to be able to then describe a practical account of howwe do realist research.

  • 05:26

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: So "theories" a slippery term, and it can mean everythingfrom a grand statement that tries to draw togethera whole range of different social phenomenaabout the world through to empirical descriptions thatsometimes describe it and describe the theory.Well, I'm going to talk about theory as theoryas, in some way, middle range.

  • 05:50

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: And these theories-- I want to emphasize--are fragile things that, in some way,describe what works for whom in what circumstance and why.Theories are practical because, while they'refeeble-- as I mentioned-- they are valuable in helpingus and orientating us to identifying whomor what we are about to do the research with, how we chooseour cases, the sample in the research,and the methods that we are going to useto do that investigation.

  • 06:25

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: The practicality of these theoriesis that we bring them into some kind of relationshipwith the empirical world.The reason why we choose cases, why we choose methodsis to test, to refine, to judge theories.And so with this methodological work done,this ground cleared-- understandingof the depth ontology of realism,the epistemological relativism of realism,the ontological stratification of realism,and also, recognizing the importance and centralityof theory in all of those statementsabout what realism is-- we're nowready to move on to talk about the practical workof the zigzag of doing realist research.

  • 07:13

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: I want to talk through it from before the research startsto after the research finishes.Before the research starts, we havelots of theories, lots of ideas about that which weare interested to investigate.And what I want to emphasize is that thereisn't a hierarchy of ideas.

  • 07:35

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: What we're looking for-- recall in our discussionearlier on about epistemological relativism and our statementabout middle range theories in realist research--we're looking for ideas about what works for whom in whatcircumstances and why we're interested in seeking outtheories, statements about the way in which mechanisms impactson particular regularities to leadto particular kinds of outcomes in certain kinds of contexts.

  • 08:05

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: Theories might come from really quite informal sources.So for instance, listening to the radio for newsin the morning will provide all sorts of theoriesabout why politicians or policymakers thinkthat a particular policy is going to workin a certain sort of way.Similarly, theories can be drawn from sociological researchand social science research more generally.

  • 08:28

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: What we start with, in any piece of researchinvestigating the social world, area huge range of opportunities to identify particular theorieswe want to test and refine in the research.So as I mentioned, these ideas are fragile ideas.These theories are fragile ideas,but they are ideas that have sufficient force and powerto allow us to be able to choose the casesand identify the methods through which wedo the empirical research.

  • 09:02

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: Bear in mind that what we're seeking to do in the researchis to test and refine and judge these particular ideas.So we zigzag through any piece of research,between ideas and evidence.And as we zigzag between ideas and evidence,so our ideas are tested, refined, judged.

  • 09:26

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: And we reevaluate the appropriatenessof the sample that we're using, the methodswe're using to investigate that particular piece of research.Of course, the way I'm describing itis very clean, very tidy.And social research is far, far messier than that.But nonetheless, as a schema, what one can seeis a zigzag between ideas which leadto drive the methods, the cases to investigatethe empirical world, which then, again, in turn,allow for us to develop our ideas.

  • 10:02

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: The zag from the empirical two ideas as retroduction--that is, seeking out identifying,making claims for the mechanisms thatbring about that particular empiricalobserve-- that particular empirical observation.What I'm talking about here is a move from fragile ideaswhere we started our research, zigzaggingbetween ideas and evidence, retroduction and abduction.

  • 10:33

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: Where we end up with-- bearing in mindthat idea that the real is independent of our knowingand we can never ever make an absolute claim that we knowthe real-- what we're going to end up atis a point where we have a fallible model,a fallible account of that which we are seeking to investigate,which does rather beg the question-- when doyou finish doing researching?

  • 10:55

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: Well, the simple and quick answer to thatis you never do for two reasons.First of all, we'll always be able to make a betterclaim for that which we seek to investigate.The other point that I just want to make at this pointis that the social world is relatively enduring.

  • 11:16

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: That which is happening today will not necessarilyhappen tomorrow.Forces and powers will come into playon the social world, which will change itin significant ways, which will require us to investigate itin slightly different ways.So we have to have an endpoint, a stoppingpoint to a piece of research.And quite simply, the stopping point for a piece of researchis when the resources run out.

  • 11:37

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: When the three years of research project come to an end,when the money runs out from the funding council, whenthe money runs out from the funding council, as examples,that is the point when a research project finishes.Now, if you're lucky-- as I have been in several of my researchprojects-- more funding comes along,which then allows you to be able to pick up at the pointwhere you left off.

  • 11:60

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: Another fragile idea, which we will zigzag back and forthbetween ideas and empirical accounts, choosing methods,selecting cases in such a way that we'reable to investigate those empirical accountsand further refine our ideas.Or it may be the case that we write up that research,allow others to pick that research up, thenour research then becomes the fragile ideas for others to dotheir research in different contexts,in different circumstances, which allows them to beable to make statements, develops theories, allows themto be able to develop theories about what works for whomin what circumstances and why.

  • 12:44

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: So in summary, realist research zigzags all the timebetween ideas and evidence.Its driver, its purpose, the way in which the methods arechosen, the way in which sample is chosen in the researchis purposeful and always in the service of ideas.

  • 13:05

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: [MUSIC PLAYING]

Video Info

Publisher: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Publication Year: 2017

Video Type:Tutorial

Methods: Realism, Methodology, Qualitative data collection

Keywords: feedback loop; idea generation; power (organizational theory); practices, strategies, and tools; Social processes

Segment Info

Segment Num.: 1

Persons Discussed:

Events Discussed:



Dr. Nick Emmel explains realism as the idea that a real world exists, whether or not we are aware of it. Realist research seeks to create and investigate theories that can explain some part of reality. He discusses the zigzag between ideas and evidence, and how to know when you are finished researching.

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An Introduction to Realist Qualitative Research

Dr. Nick Emmel explains realism as the idea that a real world exists, whether or not we are aware of it. Realist research seeks to create and investigate theories that can explain some part of reality. He discusses the zigzag between ideas and evidence, and how to know when you are finished researching.

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