Realist Group in Community and Primary Care Research

Aims to provide a space to develop expertise for those with an interest in realist approaches, towards interventions investigations, critiques and methodological developments.  

The group offers:

  • a termly reading group
  • periodic seminars and guest speakers.

What is realism?

Realist and critical realists approach requires researchers to go beyond developing credible theories to exhausting all possible causal explanations for emergence (Bunt 2016). Critical Realists regard themselves as philosophical under-labourers insofar as they use multi-layered frameworks and interdisciplinary approaches to critical inquiry (Bhaskar 2016). Realism is an emancipatory project as well as an approach to research, which recognises the complex and somewhat unpredictable nature of the social world. For instance, people respond to health interventions in diverse ways; choosing to utilise or reject the resources available to them. The realist endeavour in health sciences research is to examine ‘what works for whom, under what circumstances, and how’, to improve practice and the lives of social care recipients (Pawson 1997).

Growing approach in health services research

Realist approaches have gained traction in health services research. Its emphasis on causal mechanisms help us contextualise trial results by answering the transcendental question ‘what must be true in order for this to be the case’ (Oliver 2012). While our group is particularly interested in realist evaluations and health trials, we see value in interdisciplinarity and would welcome those with an interest in realism from other faculties, disciplines and external partners.


  • D-PACT -  Developing and evaluating a system for dementia support in general practice for people with dementia and their carers.
  • Engager -  Developing and evaluating a collaborative care intervention for offenders with common mental health problems, near to and after release.
  • Engagement in Person Centred and Coordinated Care (P3C) – Theory development from our evaluations of person centred models of care in the Southwest of England.


  • Elder-Vass, D. (2011) The Causal Power of Social Structures: Emergence, Structure and Agency. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Emmel, N., Greenhalgh, J., Manzano, A., Mongahan, M. and Dalkin, S. (2018) Doing Realist Research. London: Sage.     
  • Houston S (2001) Beyond Social Constructionism: Critical Realism and Social Work. The British Journal of Social Work 31(6): 845–861.
  • Oliver C (2012) Critical realist grounded theory: A new approach for social work research. British Journal of Social Work 42(2): 371–387.
  • Sayer A (2000) Realism and Social Science. London: Sage.


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Please contact:

Laura Gill MSc
Research Group Co-ordinator
University of Plymouth, Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry
Room N14, ITTC Building
Plymouth Science Park
Derriford, Plymouth, Devon

Tel: +44 (0) 1752 764879