The idea of ‘being a realist’ is rather slippery. Realism in everyday parlance is taken for granted as a sort of common sense perspicacity. We can all relate to being told to ‘get real,’ or ‘be realistic,’ but what that actually means, when you stop and think about it, could be all sorts of different things to different people.
In academic circles, realism is even more slippery, with a cascade of categories you need a lot of patience to pick a path through. At the top: philosophical realism, scientific realism, political realism, artistic realism. Beneath each of those, more specifics: critical realism, transcendental realism, naïve realism, so on and so on. There’s a veritable spaghetti junction of realism out there.
In my research training, I studied ontology and epistemology – basically what there is to know, and how we know it. Lots of people think this stuff is boring, but for me, it is in these questions that the real power to effect change lies.