The uncritical realism of realist evaluation

Authors: Porter, S.

Journal: Evaluation

Volume: 21

Issue: 1

Pages: 65-82

DOI: 10.1177/1356389014566134

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Authors: Porter, S.

Journal: Evaluation

Volume: 21

Issue: 1

Pages: 65-82

eISSN: 1461-7153

ISSN: 1356-3890

DOI: 10.1177/1356389014566134

© The Author(s) 2015. This article is a response to Ray Pawson’s critique of critical realism, the philosophy of science elaborated by Roy Bhaskar. I argue with Pawson’s interpretation of critical realism’s positions on both natural and social science and his charges concerning its totalizing ontology, its arrogant epistemology and its naive methodology. The differences between critical realism and realist evaluation are not as significant as Pawson contends. The main differences between the two realisms lie in their approaches to the relationship between social structures and human agency, and between facts and values. I argue that evaluation scientists need to clearly distinguish structure and agency. They should also make their values explicit. The uncritical approach of realist evaluation, combined with its underplaying of the importance of agency, leaves it open to implication in the abuses of bureaucratic instrumentalism.

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