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institutional conditions including the unemployment insurance system (Western, 1997).

CR has a substantial philosophical underpinning to these ideas. These issues may be pursued through the works of Sayer, who refers in turn to the well-known CR scholars notably Roy Bhaskar and Margaret Archer (see Archer, 1998, also Danermark et al., 2002). For present purposes, these deeper aspects can be left to one side, and no necessary commitment is made here to any larger CR programme. The argument is simply that CR provides a grounding for what IR researchers have often tacitly done, and that making the links more explicit may help in two ways: to establish the social science credentials of IR research, and to demonstrate IR’s contribution to a social science programme.


IR and its tacit theorizing

Any explicit discussion of CR is virtually absent in IR. Two volumes reviewing analytical development of the field make no reference to CR (Ackers and Wilkinson, 2003; Kaufman, 2004a), and a search of articles in three leading journals over a five- year period found no explicit use of the term CR (Edwards, 2005b). Yet, to use Lawson’s (1997: 247) comment on economics, there are approaches ‘which seem broadly consistent with critical realism’. Or, at a more concrete level, Fleetwood (1999: 474), in providing a CR-based critique of economic models of trade union behaviour, says that ‘something akin to’ his preferred approach can be identified in a small number of extant studies. The review of IR journals just mentioned examined 353 papers, and concluded that 27 were ‘consistent’ with CR in implicitly addressing the causal powers of various phenomena and the causal mechanisms connecting them. In the study of work organization more generally, CR also appears to feature little. Watson (2004), for example, in his call for ‘critical social science analysis’ makes no reference to CR.

The reasons for this state of affairs can be expressed in ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ terms. In negative terms, IR defines itself in part in relation to the limits of core disciplines. In their review of the field, Bain and Clegg (1974) noted that economists had produced poor explanations of pay determination, while sociologists’ efforts to link trade unions to social class foundered on a failure to grasp the nature of unions. The solution was to offer a more integrated approach, that drew on several disciplines and that respected the context- bound nature of IR phenomena. An account of democracy in trade unions, say, would need to start from differing definitions of democracy, so that the meaning of democracy will be different between unions in different countries and even between unions in the same country that have different organizations and traditions. Yet such an analysis led to an emphasis on facts at the expense of theory, a tendency that has been highlighted in a string of commentaries (Winchester, 1983; Berridge and Goodman, 1988; Kelly, 1998; Towers, 2003). As Kaufman (2004b: xv) notes in his review of the international development of the field, it ‘is largely an applied area of problem solving, and theoretical development has rather badly lagged behind’.

This is not to say that IR lacked all theory. There clearly were efforts to explain observed phenomena through analytical frameworks, and there were efforts to develop theories ‘of’ industrial relations, the most noted example being the work of Dunlop (1958). But theory building tended to be eclectic, and to look inwards rather than outwards. That is, theories were developed to address specific problems, but there was little attempt to take any insights and use them to advance theoretical issues


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