This paper proposes a liaison —‘middle-range realism’—between two long standing explanatory strategies in sociology— ‘middle-range theory’ and ‘realist social theory’. Each offers what the other lacks. Middle-range theory carries an acute sense of the function of theory within empirical inquiry but has left undeveloped any notion of its appropriate explanatory form. Realist social theory has propositional precision but has been unable, in the most part, to descend from a critical domain to the empirical plane. Middle range realism thus offers a research strategy of the appropriate form and scope to lead and to federate empirical inquiry. Examples are provided of how middle-range realism can be applied to improve research using two different strategies (survey methods and evaluation research) in two contrasting substantive areas (voting behaviour and offender rehabilitation).
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