Critical Realism and ICT4D Research

Conference paper
Part of the IFIP Advances in Information and Communication Technology book series (IFIPAICT, volume 504)


There is little overt engagement with research paradigms in ICT4D research but what there is shows a dominance of positivism and interpretivism. In this paper we explore the value of a “third way” research paradigm: critical realism. We concisely review the main features of critical realism: its ontological realism combined with epistemological relativism; its iterative, pluralist and reflexive methodology; and its emancipatory values. Alongside the general value of explicit use of any research paradigm, we argue two particular types of value of critical realism for ICT4D research. First, generic values including exposure of context, a contingent causality that reflects real-world ICT4D experiences, legitimisation of different stakeholder views and reduction of research bias, and support for ICT4D’s interventionist approach and its goal of delivering international development. Second, specific value in addressing current trends in ICT4D research: the growing search for causal links between “ICT” and “D”, and the political and ethical turns in ICT4D that are spurring researchers to engage more with issues of power, rights and justice. We conclude that delivery of critical realism’s utility will require the ICT4D research community to take actions that enable this emergent research paradigm to flourish.


ICT4D Critical realism Philosophy Methodology 


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Copyright information

© IFIP International Federation for Information Processing 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Development InformaticsUniversity of ManchesterManchesterUK
  2. 2.School of Computer ScienceTrinity College DublinDublinIreland

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