Critical realism in empirical research: employing techniques from grounded theory methodology

Eric T. Hoddy*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Whilst critical realism (CR) is becoming recognised as a significant meta-theory for the social sciences, there is little guidance on how to produce research which is consistent with its ontological and epistemological assumptions. This article contributes to an emerging discussion about how CR can be applied, drawing on an example of a qualitative study that has sought to understand and explain the causes of unmet need amongst a group of rural labourers in Tunisia. Using this study as an illustration, I show how techniques from grounded theory methodology can be usefully harnessed in the data collection, coding and analysis stages of a research project that adopts a CR philosophical and methodological framework. I illustrate how an ‘abductive’ variant of grounded theory allowed drawing on pre-existing theoretical knowledge throughout the research stages; whilst open and axial coding techniques could be harnessed for identifying and postulating CR causal mechanisms. This article should be of interest to students and researchers involved with grounded theory and applied critical realism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111-124
Number of pages14
JournalInternational Journal of Social Research Methodology
Issue number1
Early online date26 Jul 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2019


  • coding
  • Critical realism
  • grounded theory
  • qualitative research

Cite this