My current project using social network analysis has led me to The SAGE Handbook of Case-Based Methods in which a recurring theme is “complex realism,” an approach described in David Harvey’s chapter on “Complexity and Case” as requiring ontological as well as methodological and epistemological considerations. Harvey writes,
Three levels of ontological interest are germane to sociological inquiry: (1) philosophical ontology; (2) scientific ontology; and (3) social ontology. Philosophical ontology deduces from the structure of speculative thought the fundamental nature of the entities that constitute our everyday world. Scientific ontologies are nested within philosophical ontologies to the extent they flesh out the local details of a terrain in a way philosophical ontology cannot. Finally, social ontologies are nested within scientific ontologies in that they deal with the elemental entities and dynamics sociohistorical formations must exhibit if they are to sustain themselves over time.
A clear understanding of ‘casing’, to use Ragin’s (1992, pp. 219-220) suggestive term, requires a full explication of a case-object’s ontology at all three of these levels. Moreover, in keeping with the complex realist paradigm, we assume that case-objects are ontologically real, i.e., they exist prior to the research act itself. Of course, the conceptual imagery of the case-object is undoubtedly a product of operationist research strategies. The case-object, however, is not a wholly nominalist invention. Casing does not create the case-object, but only a construct of the case-object. Consequently, there is always an aspect of the case-object that eludes or stands over and against casing and its epistemology.
Or, in my own simpler terms, how we conceive a case never exhausts the reality to which our construct points as it tries to say something useful about it.
My first question is, How many of us here have heard of “complex realism” and seen it described in this way?
My second question is, What do you think of this account?