Postpositivist, critical realism: philosophy, methodology and method for nursing research

Ryan, Gemma S. (2019). Postpositivist, critical realism: philosophy, methodology and method for nursing research. Nurse Researcher, 27(3) pp. 20–26.



Background: Healthcare research acknowledges a range of paradigms, including postpositivism and critical realist methodologies. However, there are few examples of such studies, which may discourage nurses from considering it to be a viable option.

Aims:To provide a detailed overview of Bhaskar’s critical realism and illustrate its methods with published examples

Discussion: Bhaskar’s critical realist methodology is explained and three main research methods are illustrated: critical realist evaluation, action research and ethnography.

Conclusion: Postpositivism negotiates some of the conflict and differences between positivism and interpretivism. It offers a variety of methodological choices for nurses who do not wish to align themselves only with facts, cause and effect, proving hypotheses, or the perspectives and experiences of participants.

Implications for Practice: Researchers can use Bhaskar’s critical realist principles to study complex and open systems, such as those of teams and organisations, public health interventions, and social situations, but particularly the complexities of nursing practice, service delivery and service design.

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