CRUICKSHANK J. Nursing Inquiry 2012; 19: 71-82 Positioning positivism, critical realism and social constructionism in the health sciences: a philosophical orientation This article starts by considering the differences within the positivist tradition and then it moves on to compare two of the most prominent schools of postpositivism, namely critical realism and social constructionism. Critical realists hold, with positivism, that knowledge should be positively applied, but reject the positivist method for doing this, arguing that causal explanations have to be based not on empirical regularities but on references to unobservable structures. Social constructionists take a different approach to postpositivism and endorse a relativist rejection of truth and hold that the task of research is to foster a scepticism that undermines any positive truth claim made. It is argued that social constructionism is a contradictory position.