Professor Margaret Archer is a leading critical realist and major contemporary social theorist. This edited collection seeks to celebrate the scope and accomplishments of her work, distilling her theoretical and empirical contributions into four sections which capture the essence and trajectory of her research over almost four decades. Long fascinated with the problem of structure and agency, Archer’s work has constituted a decade-long engagement with this perennial issue of social thought. However, in spite of the deep interconnections that unify her body of work, it is rarely treated as a coherent whole. This is doubtless in part due to the unforgiving rigour of her arguments and prose, but also a byproduct of sociology’s ongoing compartmentalisation.
This edited collection seeks to address this relative neglect by collating a selection of papers, spanning Archer’s career, which collectively elucidate both the development of her thought and the value that can be found in it as a systematic whole. This book illustrates the empirical origins of her social ontology in her early work on the sociology of education, as well as foregrounding the diverse range of influences that have conditioned her intellectual trajectory: the systems theory of Walter Buckley, the neo-Weberian analysis of Lockwood, the critical realist philosophy of Roy Bhaskar and, more recently, her engagement with American pragmatism and the Italian school of relational sociology. What emerges is a series of important contributions to our understanding of the relationship between structure, culture and agency. Acting to introduce and guide readers through these contributions, this book carries the potential to inform exciting and innovative sociological research.
Please consider submitting a short paper to the EGOS2017 sub-theme on ‘De/humanisation and Organisation’ organised by our deputy director Ismael Al-Amoudi. The purpose of this sub-theme is to explore the dehumanising effects of contemporary organisations but also the potential of organisations to rehumanise social relations. Deadline: 9 Jan 2017, length: 3,000 words.
In many ways, our current epoch witnesses dehumanized social relations. While alienation (Marx), disenchantment (Weber) and the deficit in social solidarity (Durkheim) are by no means recent phenomena, processes of dehumanization continue to prevail in most spheres of society. In the public sphere, discussions privilege compliance with bureaucratic regulations and quantifiable indicators (such as GDP and its growth) over human needs and flourishing, have the effect of excluding large portions of the electorate from public debate while accelerating the demise of the Welfare State. More recently, Western countries’ securitarian and paranoid responses to terrorist attacks have reinforced a climate of generalized suspicion in which the neighbour is deemed to be a potential enemy (Zizek, 2009).
In the economic sphere, the financialization of the economy and the spread of market ownership privilege economic profitability over human well-being. Corporate Social Responsibility is thus deployed mostly as a rhetorical device whose injunctions are followed as long as they are profitable to corporate shareholders. Yet, any contemporary observer of capitalism witnesses suffering, destitution and ethical corrosion, both in richer and in poorer countries. Equally worryingly, the private sphere also seems to have undergone dehumanization: for instance, impersonal relations are the lot of ever-growing urban centres, whilst familial duties of care are gradually replaced either by indifference or by reliance on salaried transactions with professional carers (Hochschild, 2003).
The dehumanization of society is mirrored, and perhaps intensified, by the exclusion of the notion of ‘human’ and ‘humanity’ from the social sciences and humanities in the second half of the 20th Century. While philosophers such as Foucault, or more recently Butler, have warned against taken for granted conceptions of the human, their warnings seem to have produced effacement, rather than problematization, of the category of ‘human’. This is especially evident in a variety of anti- or post-humanist theorising, which either dissolves human persons into their wider material, discursive or communicative contexts, or alternatively conceptualises humanity only as an aggregate of neurological, psychological or material components.
There exist, however, significant exceptions to this trend. Neo-Aristotelian philosophers such as Sen and Nussbaum have developed political philosophies that place human capabilities at the centre of the stage. In feminist studies, Lawson (2009) advocated ‘minimal humanism’ and in sociology Archer (2000), Sayer (2011) and Smith (2010) have taken stock of the absence of human subjects from social scientific accounts and sketched the contours of a humanist social science. On the post-structuralist front, Butler’s studies of derealization and dehumanization (Butler 2004; 2009) mark a reinstatement of the category of the ‘human’ that remains conscious that norms of humanity can produce violence on those persons who do not fit them.
The major purpose of this sub-theme is to explore the dehumanizing effects of contemporary organizations but also the potential of organizations to rehumanize social relations. We welcome a range of theoretical and empirical contributions on processes of humanization/dehumanization addressing, amongst other issues, the following:
How do contemporary modes of organizing and organization contribute to dehumanize people? For instance, to what extent is the largely studied dark side of management amenable to dehumanization? What is gained by doing so? But, equally importantly, which aspects, if any, are not reducible to dehumanization?
Conversely, what contemporary movements and novel modes of organizing might contribute to enhance human flourishing and dignity? For instance, how are social movements centered on human dignity such as the Spanish Indignados readdressing the human side of social relationships? How are cooperatives and alternative organizations of work, care and political involvement developing credible instances of resistance to dehumanizing tendencies?
Is the concept of the ‘human’ still a useful ethical category when assessing the ‘good’ organization? Does it make sense to wager, with Foucault, that ‘man would be erased, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea’? Is ‘humanity’ merely an empty signifier prone to endless re-appropriation and whose value is at best tactical but never foundational for social and organizational theories and politics? Or is the notion of humanity, and associated ‘powers’, ‘rights’ and ‘flourishing’, a useful standard when assessing and criticizing organizations and societies?
What are the new struggles arising from the attack on dignity and from the exclusion processes that are largely shaping capitalistic societies?
Have the boundaries of what people regard as a dehumanizing treatment shifted? Have we become more willing, for instance, to disregard outrage in the name of economic and military security?
The dehumanization of bureaucratic organizations has been extensively studied since Weber and Gouldner. But is the emergence of hybrid or post-bureaucratic organizations a safeguard against dehumanization? Or do these novel organizational forms merely shift the modalities of dehumanization?
What is the role of information technologies in processes of dehumanization?
Archer, M.S. (2000): Being Human. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Butler, J. (2004): Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence. London: Verso.
Butler, J. (2009): Frames of War: When is Life Grievable? London: Verso.
Hochschild, A.R. (2003): The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling. Twentieth Anniversary Edition. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Lawson, T. (2009): “Feminism, realism and essentialism. Reply to Van Staveren.” In: E. Fullbrook (ed.): Ontology and Economics. Tony Lawson and His Critics. London: Routledge, 311–324.
Sayer, A. (2011): Why Things Matter to People: Social Science, Values and Ethical Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Smith, C. (2010): What is a Person? Rethinking Humanity, Social Life and the Moral Good from the Person up. Chicago: Chicago University Press.
Zizek, S. (2009): Violence. Six Sideways Reflections. London: Profile Books.
Reflexivity Forum 10am-5pm, May 24th 2016 R1.04, University of Warwick
Following from a successful initial meeting last year, this event will be the first of a hopefully ongoing series of events aimed at those investigating human reflexivity through empirical research. The ‘internal conversation’ was developed by Margaret Archer as a solution to the problem of structure and agency: a mediatory mechanism that accounts for how society’s objective features influence its members to reproduce or transform society through their actions. Since initially discussed in Being Human, this account of human reflexivity has been developed through a trilogy of books reporting on empirical studies into the distinct modes through which reflexivity operates. This body of work has been used in projects across a range of disciplines and been the topic of much theoretical and methodological debate.
The event is free but registration is essential. If you would like to speak at the event, presenting a work in progress, please register by March 31st with a title and 100 word abstract. If you would like to attend then please register by April 30th.
This one day workshop is intended for those currently using or planning to use the morphogenetic approach in their research. In the first half of the workshop, Margaret Archer will give an overview of the morphogenetic approach and its development, as well as address conceptual and methodological questions that participants might have. In the second half of the workshop, there will be plenty of time to present work-in-progress or planned projects, get feedback and discuss with others who are doing similar work.
If you’d like to participate then please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with a brief biography and description of your project.