I claim my theoretical framework for this study under two broad assumptions.
First: Critical realism, and especially its ontology, offers much to the analysis of education research.
Second: Much current education research commits to one of two mistaken ontological positions: the empirical realist ontology in which positivist analysis lives and breathes (Davidsen, 2005; O'Boyle & McDonough, 2011); and the social constructionist ontology in which post-modernist or post-structuralist analysis lives and breathes (Arnd-Caddigan & Pozzuto, 2006; Fleetwood, 2005).
Despite the contributions that post-modernism and post-structuralism offer, it seems to me that in the abandonment of positivism, post-modernists and post-structuralists unfortunately substituted one mistaken ontological perspective for another. If unchecked, I believe this mistake threatens to take education research down a road as narrow and precarious as the positivist one from which it only recently escaped. Such wandering suggests unnecessary tragedy, especially given that critical realism provides a viable ontology of education, allowing researchers and theorists to question positivism and its empirical realist ontology without having to accept the orthodoxy of social constructionist ontology instead.
As a critical realist, I concede that human behavior reflects context (Taylor, 1989, 1995; Richardson, Fowers, & Guignon, 1999; Bishop, 2007), and that as such, universal laws cannot explain it (Donagan, 1964). In other words, we cannot fully predict action in open systems and, thus, we cannot adequately conceptualize such action simply through deterministic theory (Conway & Kochen, 2009; Kim, 2012; Thayer, 1978). This, however, is precisely what positivist approaches in education research aim at when they apply or attempt to identify new uniformities of human action. In contrast, critical realism provides a fundamentally different epistemological perspective of causality, in that it systematically accounts for context-specificity in human action (Archer & Bhaskar, 2013).
British philosopher, Bhaskar (1997) developed critical realism, and Sayer (1992, 2000) and others later propagated it in the social sciences by suggesting a pragmatic epistemological alternative (Rigakos & Frauley, 2011), which avoids the nomological determinism of the logical empiricists (Horst, 2011) and the much-bemoaned relativism of post-modern theory (Francis, 2001; Nash, 2004; Sayer, 2000). In contrast to post-modern approaches, critical realism maintains the assumption that an objective reality exists independent from the individual. I agree. However, the relationship between reality and our knowledge about it remains asymmetrical. In other words, the fact that concepts necessarily mediate empirical observations does not mean that they exist solely as products of these concepts. Instead, these observations depend (at least partially) on the structural properties of the real objects observed...