Critical realism and mental health research

Authored by: David Pilgrim

Routledge International Handbook of Critical Mental Health

Print publication date:  September  2017
Online publication date:  September  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138225473
eBook ISBN: 9781315399584
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter proposes that all social scientists studying mental health, implicitly or explicitly, adhere to philosophical assumptions about being, knowing and values. In formal terms we all adopt, consciously or unconsciously, some position about ontology, epistemology and ethics. Moreover, I argue below that, for those interested in exploring the complexities of mental health, the philosophical premises of critical realism (CR) strike the best balance in relation to these interweaving forms of enquiry (I provide a fuller account of this in my monograph Understanding Mental Health: A Critical Realist Exploration (Pilgrim 2015b)). The chapter is divided into three sections that: introduce basic CR; contrast the philosophy with positivism, on one side, and strong social constructivism, on the other; and offer case studies about psychiatric diagnosis and child sexual abuse to illustrate these differences.

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