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Industrial Relations and Critical Realism: IR’s Tacit Contribution

Paul Edwards

Acknowledgements

An earlier version of this paper was given at the 2005 Critical Management Studies conference. Thanks to participants at the conference, and to Jim Arrowsmith and Keith Sisson, for comments. The paper is part of the work of the Advanced Institute of Management Research, which is funded by the ESRC.

Abstract

Industrial relations (IR) is often accused of being atheoretical. Yet there has been a tradition of tacit theorizing that links IR to an important strand of social science theory, institutional analysis. There are further connections to the philosophy of science laid out in critical realism (CR). This paper argues that these connections need to be made more explicit and that a programme of IR research based on them can then be developed. The connections are first identified by laying out the core principles of CR and institutional analysis and the implications for IR. Illustrations of IR research that are consistent with CR are then indicated. The work of the leading CR theorist, Tony Lawson, is addressed: Lawson offers a CR-based perspective on a key issue, the UK productivity record, but his view is in fact insufficiently based in CR, and use of IR research can suggest a richer account. Finally, a comparative research programme is sketched. This reflects the need for IR to pursue its links with sociology and political science, with rather less emphasis on the relationship with labour economics, which has traditionally defined the field.

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