A Critical Look at Critical Realism: Some Observations on the Problems of the Metatheory

Juha Käpylä 1 , 1  and Harri Mikkola 2 , 2
  • 1 University of Tampere, Finland, juha.kapyla@uta.fi
  • 2 University of Tampere, Finland, harri.mikkola@uta.fi

International Relations as a scientific discipline can be considered elusive and, in a sense, “under debate.” A distinctive feature of the theoretical debates of the discipline has been the various calls for different kinds of theoretical and metatheoretical “turns.” In this atmosphere, the return of ontologically oriented IR theorizing based on Critical Realism has increased in influence. The aim of this article is to problematize some of the formulations of Critical Realist metatheory, especially in relation to the notions of correspondence, retroduction and emergence. The article will argue that in the context of the social sciences, two things are highly problematic. The first problem is the quest for establishing “heavy ontological furniture” as a backbone for scientific research. The second problem is the attempt to combine the fallibility of human knowledge with the “getting things right” attitude based on correspondence-like concepts of truth. The article concludes with a recommendation for a healthy caution towards the Critical Realist aspiration for the “ontological turn” in the social sciences.

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World Political Science (WPS), sponsored by the International Political Science Association (IPSA), publishes translations of prize-winning articles nominated by prominent national political science associations and journals around the world.