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The symptomatology of crises, reading crises and learning from them: some critical realist reflections

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>1/07/2015
<mark>Journal</mark>Journal of Critical Realism
Issue number3
Number of pages34
Pages (from-to)238-271
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date23/06/15
<mark>Original language</mark>English


This contribution considers the potential of critical realism to illuminate the nature of crises, crisis management, and crisis lessons. After reviewing key aspects of critical realism in general, the analysis notes the challenge of developing critical realism in particular by identifying appropriate entry-points and standpoints for the analysis of specific explananda. It then provides a general critical realist account of the nature of crises in the social world and of learning in, about, and from crisis. A key concept here is symptomatology — the exploration of the contingently necessary relation between actual symptoms and underlying causal mechanisms. This is related in turn to the crucial distinction between scientifically adequate explanations of crisis and conjuncturally ‘correct’ readings of the potential for transformative action in the face of crisis. This has important bearings on the emancipatory contribution of critical realism in the context of a continuing critique of ideology and domination. The article then provides particular critical realist accounts of (1) the abstract possibility of crisis in the capitalist mode of production and (2) its concrete actualization in the complex, overdetermined cases of the North Atlantic Financial Crisis and the Eurozone Crisis. It ends with some general remarks on the potential of crisis as an entry-point into the analysis of the contradictory nature of social structures.