Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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core definition

Realistic means both reproducing reality and adopting a practical or concrete approach rather than an impractical or idealistic one.

explanatory context

The term realistic in modern use is essentially a polemical term with several meanings. These meanings have historical links to realism, which is a philosophical position, but their current meanings owe nothing to contemporary philosophical debate. The confusion arises as the term realist is used to refer both to someone who is a proponent of realism and to someone who is realistic.

The first meaning of realistic is that of someone concerned with concrete existence rather than abstract conceptualisation about it; as in 'Bill is a realist, he's not concerned with a lot of daft ideas'.

A second and similar meaning is that of practical compared to the idealistic impracticality. This usage thus contrasts the realist who is concerned with everyday practice to the idealist who is concerned about 'a lot of things that he/she can do nothing about'.

A third, and rather different meaning, borders closely on the notion of realism in the arts. Realistic is used to indicate that an artefact closely resembles an element of the objective world. For example, 'that's a realistic sculpture of a bird, I thought it was a real one', or 'that's a realistic photograph, it's really captured the action'. (See Realism in art and literature).

analytical review

associated issues


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See also




copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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