Medical science alone will not prevent pandemics, and climate science alone will not stop climate change. Psychology alone will not conquer mental illness, and sociology alone will not solve social problems. Advancements in critical research and understanding are forged through collaboration. We must look at the many issues we face today in their full complexity and, in turn, offer progressive and complex solutions.

Methodological Innovation: Introduction

Heathwood promotes research that builds new bridges between methods, disciplines, and the gap between philosophy, empirical study and the natural sciences. We refer to this type of creative expansion – these synthesizing, holistic and integrative practices – as methodological innovation. In this sense of the term, Heathwood’s methodological vision owes a great deal to critical realism.

Originally emerged from out of Frankfurt School critical theory and inspired by critical realism, Heathwood seeks a programme of research not concerned with what has become an esoteric and closed world of critical theoretical or critical philosophical reference and debate. Rather, Heathwood seeks to support critical theory – that is, a progressive and innovative cross-disciplinary form of social research – in practice.

Critical theory already provides aspects of a progressive methodology for researching the social world. Douglas Kellner summarizes its techniques in Critical Theory and the Crisis of Social Theory. Heathwood honors and aims to develop and advance these progressive techniques as well as those of others, but not just by copying them. The aim is instead to advance these concepts and techniques, and this means also moving beyond them and also undertaking a far more integrative approach to researching and understanding social phenomena.

Such an integrative approach includes attempts to advance debates between differing perspectives / approaches and work through various core methodological and epistemological stalemates, relying on the advance and maturation of critical realism and its epistemological and methodological perspectives (as an alternative to social positivism and poststructuralism). For example, in seeking to understand the roots of social, economic and environmental crises, Heathwood aims to move beyond the limits of both social positivist and post-structuralist approaches. Another example can be found in Heathwood’s support of research projects that attempt to work through and progress beyond sociological relativism without falling back into positivism, all the while preserving such concepts as causality. Finally, one more example can be found in efforts to understand root causes of social phenomena that advance both concepts of causation and also the intricacies of the relation between structure-agency, etc. In each case, Heathwood supports research which seeks to advance a progressive methodology in practice. (For more, see below section ‘Methodological Innovation: A Breakdown’).

Social philosophy and critical realism

What critical theory continues to offer today – its positive legacy – is its still deeply relevant and vital normative foundations (Allen, 2016). Much as with constructive approaches in other philosophical schools, such as the positive developments in certain strands of Anglo-American philosophy, Heathwood’s integrative approach seeks to preserve such vital normativity whilst developing an infusion of key insights provided by other movements, relying on the advancements of critical realism.

Heathwood thus seeks to combine and integrate a variety of frameworks, methods and approaches across academic disciplines, guiding this practice from the basis of the still deeply relevant and vital normative foundations of critical theory (Allen, 2016). These normative foundations, which represent the best of Radical Enlightenment (Bronner, 2004), continue to offer a guiding basis when it comes to core interventions across a range of key philosophical, empirical, scientific and practical points of debate.

Methodologically Innovative Research: A Guiding Vision in Practice

In sum, we support authors who update and reconstruct their guiding ideas. However, in the spirit of Heathwood’s critical research vision, we support superseding orthodoxy more than ossifying the past. Innovative research doesn’t find comfort in regurgitating what has already been said within the limited confines of a single schema, instead it looks to advance. Such advancement, understood as also necessarily cross-disciplinary, brings together the most advanced theses, arguments, frameworks and models of understanding of the time to build more complex and accurate perspectives on the problems we face as well as their potential solutions.

Medical science alone will not overcome pandemics, and climate science alone will not overcome climate change. Psychology alone will not overcome mental illness, and social theory alone will not overcome social problems. Advancements in critical research and understanding are forged through collaboration. We must look at the many issues we face today in their full complexity and, in turn, offer progressive and complex solutions.

Heathwood is therefore concerned with engaged critical social research, which is multidisciplinary, multidimensional, substantive and broadly informed.

We seek to combine and integrate philosophy, empirical research and scientific study. As Kellner (2014) put it: “philosophy without empirical scientific research is empty, just as science without philosophy is blind”.

Methodological Innovation: A Breakdown

1) In response to the crisis of contemporary social theory (Kellner, 2014), the primary aim of Heathwood is to investigate the roots of social, economic, and environmental crises by implementing methodological innovations (see below) which allow for progressive and novel ways to:

  • a) research contemporary social phenomena and advance key theses with regards to a progressive, cross-disciplinary critical theory of society;
  • b) offer foundational, cross-disciplinary and integrative social critique;
  • and c), promote concrete, critical alternatives to the type of social policy symptomatic of today’s highly unjust societies.

2) Heathwood seeks to bring people together from across disciplines to build more complex and multidimensional perspectives on the problems we face as well as their potential solutions

  • scholarly interventions across the academy via our Critical Transdisciplinary Research Program (CTRP)
  • supporting critical theory, critical realism, interdisciplinary research, and methodological pluralism, as well as their combined use and integration
  • supporting practices of immanent critique and ideology critique
  • inspiring viable policy alternatives that promote social justice

3) In honoring bridges between methods, disciplines, and the gap between philosophy and empirical research, Heathwood aims to advance holistic critical realist approaches and promote innovative methodology that supersedes problematic binaries. Some examples of such binaries are:

  • structure/agency, individual/collective, subject/object, universal/particular, qualitative/quantitative, foundationalism/anti-foundationalism, and so on.
  • Heathwood encourages moving beyond rigid and dogmatic adherence to methodological enclaves such as structuralism/poststructuralism, empiricism/materialism, and positivism/relativism (to name a few).

3) A large part of mainstream contemporary social theory – including different strands of postmodern and poststructural theory – lacks anchorage in systematic empirical analysis as well as in the sciences, resulting in largely textual, hypertheoretical discourse trapped in a world of rhetoric and closed circuited debates. Heathwood aims to respond to this problem by:

  • a) offering a unique and progressive methodological approach which can be summarized as broad and foundational critical social analysis integrated and underpinned by systematic empirical research.
  • b) In seeking to connect empirical research with social theory, this means both grounding empirical research in social theory, and grounding social research in empirical study. Many popular strands of theory today become divorced from the world, from phenomena, instead restoring to the justification of abstract frameworks and explanatory schema. In turn, philosophy is increasingly both saturated and empty. It is often overrun by highly exclusive, esoteric and tedious debates that have little relationship to material reality. Thus, contemporary theory often neglects to provide sound frameworks for empirical research which can meaningfully address systemic social problems. Heathwood aims to move beyond these increasingly rigid, remote and apolitical discourses.

4) On the other hand, while there is extensive systematic qualitative analysis actively being produced in the social sciences, resulting in the generation of valuable and important data; unfortunately this data often lacks the proper interpretation. That is to say that interpretations are often of restricted scope. Analysis is often so close to the data that it cannot refer very meaningfully to the social world beyond it. In turn, the human value is diminished. Orthodox empirical research often remains split off from theory, and fails to address broader social forces and trends. Even if critically oriented, mainstream systematic empirical analysis often fails to integrate a broader foundational view of society – that is to say, it often remains fragmented and fails to refer to a broader analysis of fundamental social forces and trends. Thus Heathwood seeks to:

  • Connect empirical analysis with a broader foundational (not to be confused with foundationalism) social theory
  • Ground empirical research in a broader critical theoretical view of society, emphasizing the need for systemic empirical analysis to be grounded in critical theory and vice versa
  • Continue to develop and expand understanding of the normative foundations of critical social philosophy

4) Heathwood’s innovative approach to researching the social world overcomes the fragmentation endemic to established academic disciplines.

  • Originally inspired by and evolved from the Frankfurt School, the project’s purpose is to offer a critical interdisciplinary alternative to the generally non-critical quantitative approaches endemic to mainstream social science and theory (Kellner, 2014).
  • Heathwood draws upon multi-disciplinary techniques and methods which combines perspectives from philosophy, psychology, anthropology, cognitive science, natural science, sociology, history, geography, law, cultural theory, education, and political economy whilst seeking to also engage with communities and social movements attempting to transform society in progressive ways.

6) In response to the inadequacies of postmodern and poststructuralist approaches to important methodological questions, Heathwood aims to move beyond these increasingly hypertheoretical and apolitical discourses:

    • While postmodern and poststructuralist approaches result in fragmentation and a rejection of “grand narratives”, Heathwood’s aim is to respond to this inadequacy by developing new methods which appropriately conceptualize a critical and normative course of study that honours particularity without losing sight of the universal.
    • Further, it should be emphasized that while Heathwood endeavours to critique and move beyond post-structuralism, it does so by seeking to also avoid the traps of positivism and without regressing to relativism. As suggested above, the same position is also emphasized when it comes to supporting widely informed, nuanced and cross-disciplinary interventions in relation to such divisions as foundationalism and anti-foundationalism, universalism and particularism, causality and complex approaches, realism and anti-realism, and so on.

October, 2016
*Please note this is a working document