Critical realism and social work research

As a philosophy of science, critical realism has become a strong contender to other ontological frameworks in the discipline of social work. The holistic perspective of social work research and practice requires the ability to comprehend the stratified and complicated nature of reality. The first symposium of critical realism and social work research was first hold in 2013 at the conference in Jyväskylä and the Special Interest Group was established in Bolzano 2014 and followed up by SIG symposia in Bolzano, Ljubljana, Lisbon, Aalborg. In 2018, a pre-conference of critical realism and social work research was hold at the ESWRA conference in Edinburgh. Topics in the previous gatherings have been discussions about how critical realism may contribute to make theoretical and methodological choices in social work research and the possibility of achieving anti-oppressive social work practices based on the concept of stratified reality offered in CR. 

The group is an open forum for all who are interested in social work methodologies and theory building and have opened up for vivid discussions on the philosophical bases of social work research.

Aims and scopes:
·To bring together social work researchers with different methodological backgrounds to discuss theories of social sciences in general, and how a critical realist framework might contribute to the development of fruitful approaches for different parts of social work research 

·To meet with an international network for researchers to share project results, research experiences, literature and to cooperate in the planning of new projects and meetings. 


Critical Realism and Emancipatory Social Work Research. Theoretical and Methodological Reflections on Action Research and User Participation.

Analytical research on societal mechanisms and structural inequalities is more urgent than ever. Given that social work ought to be consistent with the broader purposes of the profession, the question of how and to what extent research can contribute to the realization of human rights and social justice is important. Participatory research is relevant for social work research on political and emancipatory issues but challenging to implement in practice. In the 2024 SIG, we wish to focus on several topics, closely related to critical realism´s vision of an emancipatory social science, where participation, transformation, normativity, interdisciplinarity, and ethics are central. We want to take a closer look at action research and specifically focus on how a critical realist perspective can underpin and guide the change that action research seeks. Action research may allow focusing on structural mechanisms more than on individual explanations of the most wicked problems of our time.

The SIG will also encourage exposing and discussing other methodological approaches, traditions, and practices using critical theories, for example from research in social work in public services, integration of immigrants, child and family care, elderly care, and other research fields. We want to highlight both the opportunities and challenges of emancipatory research and discuss the researcher’s role as an active reformer and the modified role that such a position presupposes and challenges.

We welcome presentations of a broad spectrum of research in social work to this full-day seminar.  We hope for attendance from researchers interested in theories of science in general and who are curious about the potential of action research and critical realism. We welcome presentations of ongoing or finalized work – as well as research that has not yet started.

Send your abstract of a maximum of 300 words to the convenors by March 18th. Acceptance of abstracts will be sent by March 20th. Please get in touch with us for questions or if you wish to discuss your contribution.



Monica Kjørstad (Oslo Metropolitan University)

Didier Boost, University of Antwerpen.

Anu-Riina Svenlin, University of Umeå.