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Critical realism and its prospects for African development research and policy

JM Njihia


This paper outlines critical realism, a relatively new philosophy of science, in an attempt to increase awareness of it amongst African researchers. The paper argues that this school of thought has important implications for framing social science research and development policy in developing countries. Critical realism is a radical critique of the Western philosophy, especially positivism that is closely associated with rational choice theory and Western modernity. It has four discernible progressive phases, each of which is a complete philosophical system. A discussion of its relevance to African scholars follows, centered on the fact that critical realism gives primacy to the human values of freedom and emancipation rather than to material concerns which are central to Western modernity. Recent publications have challenged contemporary African philosophy to be more responsive to popular aspirations for socio-economic development, instead of dwelling excessively on long running debates amongst different schools of philosophy. Critical realism is presented as worthy of further investigation by scholars in Africa that seek new ways forward, and relevance in a rapidly changing world. Development research and policy is used to illustrate its potential. It is found that a critical realist approach may lead to meeting of some important precedents necessary for any meaningful development to occur in Africa. 


Key Words. Critical realism, economic development, development policy, social science research



Thought and Practice: A Journal of the Philosophical Association of Kenya (PAK)

New Series, Vol.3 No.1, June 2011, pp.61-85