About Critical Social Research (1990)



© Lee Harvey 1990, 2011, 2014, 2018, 2019

Page updated 31 January, 2019

Citation reference: Harvey, L., [1990] 2011, Critical Social Research, available at, last updated 31 January, 2019, originally published in London by Unwin Hyman, all rights revert to author.


A novel of twists and surpises


Critical Social Research

5. Conclusion

5.2 Getting beneath the surface
The critical studies examined all attempt to get beneath the surface of apparent reality to reveal the nature of oppressive social structures. They are not ethnographic, semiological, or multivariate analyses per se but are critical studies that make use of different data collection tools and analytic techniques. These studies aim to show what is really going on: how the worker is exploited by the capitalist; how the public is turned into a manipulated mass; how working class kids get working class jobs; how advertisements really work; how the Western movie reproduces capitalist ideology in mythical form; how women make and remake their lives under conditions of capitalist patriarchy; how the women’s movement in India failed to take account of the impact of class and caste on women’s subordination; how the community college fails black ghetto students; and so on.

In all these studies, the attempt to reveal the nature of oppressive social structures involves a process of dialectical deconstruction and reconstruction in some form or another. This process has been characterised as the interrelationship of a number of building blocks that form the elements of dialectical analysis. These elements are abstraction, essence, totality, praxis, ideology, history and structure. The different studies have revealed how they develop and interrelate these elements.

A critical methodological approach, as we have seen, involves a materialist conception of the world. Understanding requires the penetration of outward appearances through the methodological process of abstraction from the general category to the concrete, historically specific that is then related to the whole (totality). Comprehension of even the most apparently simple form requires a grasp of structure (made accessible through abstraction from the general category) and history. These are constantly interrelated through a process of deconstruction and reconstruction within a comprehensive methodological framework that seeks not to demonstrate final absolute truth but to present an approximate reflection of reality that is subject to continuous change.

The process of deconstruction and reconstruction has been illustrated in the studies. Broadly speaking, two focuses that facilitate the dialectical analysis have emerged from these studies: contradiction and myth.



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© Lee Harvey 1990 and 2011, last updated 9 May, 2011

Next: 5.3 Contradiction