Theory-practice gaps have long been critiqued particularly in economics, where the gap between formal models and social reality was first addressed by Menger in 1871 (Menger, 2007), and later by Hayek (1937). More recently, research in institutional economics (Lawson (1997, 2002); Hodgson (1988)) has highlighted the problems with formal modelling (particularly mathematical modelling) and pinpointed the problem within underlying conceptions of social reality. This work has built on the methodological critique represented in Bhaskar’s Critical Realism (1978, 1979).
The Observatory presents an opportunity to explore the bringing together of theory and practice in a process of continual critique and exploration of the gaps between formal theoretical ideas and what actually happens to real people. The methodological processes are allied to the basic realist position (also expressed by Mingers and others) that theories and methodologies carry implicit ideas about the nature of social reality (social ontologies) and that in doing research, it is necessary to explore these different philosophical positions.
The Boundaries Observatory will extend the research around theory and practice by challenging theorists with results from interventions, and creating a platform where assumptions about social reality can be explored. In this context, critique is a continual process where even the processes of research and methodologies of the project count as instances of practice which may challenge theory.