While specific applications of critical realism to ethnography are few, theoretical developments are promising and await more widespread development. This is especially the case for progressive and critical forms of ethnography that strive to be, in critical realist terms, an “emancipatory science.” However, the history of ethnography reveals that both the field and its emancipatory potential are limited by methodological tendencies toward “naïve realism” and “relativism.” This is the antimony of ethnography. The conceptual and methodological origins of ethnography are grounded in the historical tensions between anti-naturalist Kantian idealism and hyper-naturalist Humean realism. The resolution of these tensions can be found in the conceptual resources of critical realism. Working from, and building upon, the work of British philosopher Roy Bhaskar, critical realism is a movement in the philosophy of science that transcends the limits of Kantian idealism and Humean realism via an emancipatory anti-positivist naturalism. Critical realism emerged as part of the post-positivist movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. From its Marxian origins, critical realism insists that all science, including the social sciences, must be emancipatory. At its essence, this requires taking ontology seriously. The call of critical realism to ethnographers, like all social scientists, is that while they must hold to epistemological caution this does not warrant ontological shyness. Furthermore, critical realism’s return to ontology implies that ethnographers must be ethically serious. Ethnography, if it is to hold to its progressive inclinations, must be about something. Critical realism for ethnography pushes the field to see itself as more than a sociological practice. Rather, it is to be understood as a social practice for something: the universalizing of human freedom.
While Marx and Engels wrote little on education, the educational implications of Marxism are clear. Education both reproduces capitalism and has the potential to undermine it. With respect to reproduction, it is informative to look at key texts by Althusser and Bowles and Gintis (and the latter’s legacy). As far as challenging capitalism is concerned, considerations are given to both theoretical developments and practical attempts to confront neoliberalism and enact socialist principles, the combination of which Marxists refer to as praxis. There have been constant challenges to Marxism since its conception, and in conclusion we look at two contemporary theories—critical race theory and its primacy of “race” over class—and intersectionality which has a tendency to marginalize class.
Alpesh Maisuria and Dennis Beach
As described in Beach and Dovemark’s 2007 book, Education and the Commodity Problem, critical researchers have identified two fundamental roles for modern-day schools within capitalist states. These are the ideological and material roles and function, where schools produce ideologically compliant workers and consumers for a corporatist economy on the one hand, this is partly through a teaching and a curriculum, which is often hidden and informal; and, on the other form part of a corporate business plan for the accumulation of private capital in the welfare sector through mass outsourcing of welfare-State education provision and the wholesale commodification of education as a public service. This article presents a research method for investigating education in these circumstances. It is a method with a philosophical foundation not only for understanding contemporary educational empirical reality under neoliberal forms of capitalism, but also for developing critical consciousness for the transcendence and transformation of this condition toward a more just form of political economy and human existence. This research method draws from critical realism and its concept of explanatory critique as a way to forge a scientifically robust Marxist critical ethnography. In relation to this, the description of the method accompanies an overview of some of the basic principles and broadly accepted possibilities of and for ethnography and critical ethnography, followed by a presentation of what Marxist critical ethnography is and how Marxist critical ethnography functions as explanatory critique, respectively. This entails description of what explanatory critique is, and how it can be used to develop a philosophy of social science and an ontological base for ethnography. The aforementioned components together expand on a historical, theoretical, conceptual, and political development of ethnography as part of a Marxist approach to research and practice for social transformation.