Social realism, in sociology, refers to the assumption that social reality, social structures and related social phenomena have an existence over and above the existence of individual members of society, and independent of our conception or perception of them.
Social realists consider that science is an empirically based, rational and objective enterprise, the purpose of which is to provide explanatory and predictive knowledge. For the realist, there is an important distinction between explanation and prediction. Social realists believe that explanation should be the primary objective. They claim that explanation in both the natural and social sciences should entail going beyond simply demonstrating that phenomena are instances of some observed regularity, and uncovering the underlying and often invisible mechanisms which causally connect them. Frequently, this means postulating on the existence of types of unobservable phenomena and processes which are unfamiliar to us, but realists believe that only by doing this will it be possible to get beyond the mere "appearance" of things to their very nature and essence.
Sociologists make a distinction between social realism and positivism, which asserts that science can only deal with observable entities known directly to experience.