One of the many ways in which critical realism goes beyond positivism is in rejecting the idea that social science can or should be ethically neutral. Like most critical realists, I see it as part of the role of the social scientist to criticise unjust social arrangements. But for philosophically oriented social scientists, critique cannot come from nowhere – it requires an ethical justification and that justification must be coherent with our wider ontology.
Materially Social Blog
My book Profit and Gift in the Digital Economy argues that we should explain the economy in terms of complexes of appropriative practices, while my earlier work stresses that causal influence is exerted by entities – people, objects, and social entities like organisations (which are in turn composed of people and often objects too). In this post I propose to explain the relation between the two – and the explanation is of wider importance because it leads us to think about how some social structures can be built on or from other social structures.
Neither the traditional economist’s focus on firms in markets nor the Marxist political economist’s focus on exploitation of wage labour by capital is a viable way of understanding the real economy. This posts proposes some steps towards an alternative view.
This text, from the closing pages of the book, calls for a different kind of economy: an evolving diverse economy with more space for gift and alternative forms, and much less for the more oppressive forms of capitalism. If they are successful, books like this one form part of a spiral in which political arguments and political movements influence each other and develop iteratively.
My second extract from Profit and Gift in the Digital Economy discusses the concept of a complex of appropriative practices. It contrasts various applications of the concept with Marxist approaches to capitalism as a mode of production.
This post reproduces text from the opening pages of my 2016 book Profit and Gift in the Digital Economy. The central original contribution of this book is to propose a new framework that enables us both to see and to analyse a vast range of diverse economic forms, and to illustrate that framework by applying it to cases in the contemporary digital economy.
Increasingly, critical realist scholars have been discussing the implications of realist theories of causality for the research methods we use in the social sciences. The usual view – which I will agree with – is that realism is compatible with a wide range of different research methods. But I will suggest that for realists there is a gap between conventional methods and the explanatory task, and then speculate a little on how we might fill that gap in practice.
As a realist who uses the concept of practices (not least in my book, Profit and Gift in the Digital Economy), I’ve occasionally been surprised by hostility to the concept from some other critical realists.Here I’d like to defend the concept, while putting some caveats around how realists should use it.
‘Tis the season to think about the things that people do at Christmas – or at least some people in certain cultures. Let me take you on a whistlestop tour of some ideas from economics, anthropology and sociology that might cast some light on the practice of giving gifts that is so central to contemporary celebrations at this time of year.
One of Roy Bhaskar’s central ontological claims is that in addition to the actual – the things and events that occur in the material universe – our ontology must also recognise a domain of the real, which includes the actual, but extends beyond it. In his first book, A Realist Theory of Science, he argued that the non-actual includes real causal powers, a very strong argument that I explained towards the end of my last blog post. However, if we accept this argument this opens up rather a large question: what else could be real but not actual?