GEOGRAPHICAL RESEARCH ›› 2006, Vol. 25 ›› Issue (5): 775-784.doi: 10.11821/yj2006050003

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Critical realism in urban space study

HU Tian-xin1,2, LI Ping3   

  1. 1. China Academy of Urban Planning and Design,Beijing 100044,China
    2. Institute of Geograpic Sciencesand Natural Resources,CAS,Beijing 100101,China
    3. The Commercial Press,Beijing 100710,China
  • Received:2006-04-30 Revised:2006-07-30 Online:2006-10-15 Published:2006-10-15

Abstract: As a kind of philosophy on social science,critical realism provided a stratified ontology.The distinction between the empirical(the level of experiences);the actual(the level of events);and the real(the level of structures) implied that the world is an open system which is seen as structured,differentiated and changing.Therefore,social science was seen as a process in motion attempting to capture ever deeper and more basic strata of a reality rather than discover laws.To capture the deep structure,critical realism intended to develop its methodology which is based on the combination of intensive research and extensive research,and abstract research and concrete research. Critical realism has been introduced in urban spatial study since the early 1980s originally to criticize the traditional paradigms that base on spatial analysis.A lot of researchers in their studies focused on the critique of positivist approach.With the further practice into the relevant researches,realism has developed its concept on causal relations which is composed of events,mechanisms and structures.Basically,some realist researchers attempted to build their big conceptual framework in their research practice. Critical realism is believed to make a great contribution to urban study.Its idea of the open system and contingency of causation is immensely useful for the researchers to avoid the concept of just one cause producing one effect,and to understand that a lot of causes interacting with each other are likely to happen and to produce a variety of effects in different circumstances.Its idea that social structures and human agency exhibit explanation must attend both to structure and to agency,and any explanation which attends to either exclusively is probably going to be inadequate.Its idea also implies that the best research on urban space is likely to be interdisciplinary. Critical realism has been criticized for its some fallacies.For example,its epistemology is its drawback due to no satisfied answer for how to capture the deep structure.Its broad definition of structure leads the researchers difficult to identify the real structure.Due to the lack of its own theory on urban space,realist researchers intend to combine lots of social theories and develop complicated conceptual framework in their researches.Therefore the researchers have normally to face too heavy work load.

Key words: critical realism, urban space, causal mechanism, paradigm, structure, social theory