Three epistemological issues are brought to light through taking a critical realist approach and these are considered in this chapter. The first of these stems from the stratification of the world, and the entities within it, which means that it is not always clear which mechanisms are at work to bring about the phenomena being investigated. What is observed may be caused or affected by processes originating in structures at a different stratum, this implies that causal mechanisms are not immediately empirically evident and so further work is needed to access them. The second issue is that changes in structures and the actions taken by agents need to be considered over time. The third issue is that the reflexivity of social life means that changes in the transitive realm of thoughts and ideas have an effect upon the physical and social behaviour of people. These three issues have various implications for the research process. This chapter details these implications, explains the methodology developed in the light of the above and delineates the precise methods used in developing the research presented in this book. The stratification of the world means that phenomena at one level may be caused by processes at another level; for example, changes in participants’ teaching activities may be due to processes at an institutional level, which in themselves are a response to or are caused by national or global structures. Stratification can also take place in time; for example, participants’ actions may only be possible because they draw upon personal embodied properties that they have developed through past experiences. Phenomena may be observed empirically (Scott, 2000, p. 33), but the structures generating the mechanisms that bring them about are not always as easy to observe as they are separated by strata in space or in time. Methodology which is designed to access changes in phenomena over time and the causal mechanisms at various levels will involve undertaking a retroductive step (Blaikie, 1993, 2000) by asking the question: What must the world be like, or have been like, for the empirical phenomena we are observing to be occurring? This leads to further steps to monitor our interpretation, or theory. The search for causality implies the need for what Harré (1979) and, following him Sayer (1984, p. 221), calls an intensive research design as opposed to extensive research. Extensive studies take a representative sample, drawing from groups which share similar characteristics but are not necessarily causally connected to each
other. Such studies usually seek relationships of similarity, difference, correlation or of how extensive certain properties are within the sample and look for regularities and patterns using statistical methods, while minimising the effects of the researcher. The world is studied as if it had a flat, not a stratified ontology. In critical realist terms, the research does not stray beyond the empirical realm to access either the actual or the real realms. A description of the empirical realm makes up the research findings, which are then generalised to the whole population. The results of the research are evaluated in terms of how replicable they are. Intensive research, on the other hand, tends to consider groups or situations which are causally related to one another. Causality is analysed through a study of the actual connections between the objects of the research. The preoccupation tends to be with investigating a particular case to shed light on the processes at work. Individuals or groups are studied in situ, rather than in isolation, so that the actual processes involved can be accessed. This can include interactive interviews which may involve probing by the researcher or further discussion around a coconstructed discourse based on shared understanding. The researcher has to work to develop this understanding in order to more fully appreciate the participant’s situation. In this sense, intensive research involves an ethnographic aspect. A case study approach allows the collection of rich data in order to generate a thick description (Clegg and Stevenson, 2013; Geertz, 1975). Intensive research attempts to seek causal explanations for phenomena, usually observed or otherwise accessed through qualitative methods. Here, information about those aspects of the real and the actual realms, which may not be immediately empirically observable, is sought. The results of the research are evaluated in terms of corroboration of causal explanations. The objects of the research are not assumed to be representative and the concrete conditions need to be considered in each new context to see if the same causal powers are present before the results of the research can be applied outside the originating study (Sayer, 1984, pp. 219-25).