Critical realist research: Ethical issues and dilemmas as illustrated through a doctoral study in an African University

Stutchbury, Kris (2021). Critical realist research: Ethical issues and dilemmas as illustrated through a doctoral study in an African University. In: Fox, Alison; Busher, Hugh and Capewell, Carmel eds. Thinking Critically and Ethically about Research for Education: Engaging with Voice and Empowerment in International Contexts. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 154–170.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003094722-12

Abstract

Critical realism combines a realist ontology (there is a social reality to find out about) with a relativistic epistemology (the reality will be experienced and interpreted differently). It aims to identify the underlying causal mechanisms that give rise to observed events. It does this by looking at the dialectic relationship between ‘structure’ and ‘agency’.
Critical realist research involves a deep, holistic study of a situation which aims to understand the wider context, the nature of the social structures and how people are empowered and constrained in exercising agency. In this study the researcher worked with five teacher educators in an African University to investigate their agency with respect to pedagogic change in a context which is demanding new approaches to teaching.
Ethical issues were identified at the outset, and as the study progressed, the implications of working in a critical realist paradigm became more apparent and led to the emergence of more issues and dilemmas.
This chapter examines these dilemmas and reflects on the implications for the researcher and the participants. It concludes with a discussion of the ethical implications of working within a paradigm which requires researchers to go beyond description and analysis in order to seek explanations.

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