The Centre for Social Ontology is a research centre based at the Grenoble Ecole de Management. It aims to produce inter-disciplinary research of the highest standards in the social sciences. It is distinctive both in terms of its approach to the social sciences and in the way it organises the research and publication processes.
The CSO aims to address issues that are of relevance across the social sciences, whether theoretical, methodological or both. This makes the CSO unique as it is not a plea for ‘inter-disciplinarity’ per se. Instead, anyone working in the field of social science necessarily makes assumptions about the nature of social reality, thus social ontology is relevant in each discipline. Scientific rigour is sought in terms of the coherence of arguments’ scope and methods of investigation with the nature of the social objects being studied. This approach lends itself to studying vast and significant social phenomena for which there is ample but confusing evidence, or for which there exist contradictory accounts. In such cases the challenge is less to accumulate data as it is to make sense of what is going on and to grasp its significance in terms of social justice, human flourishing and realistic possibilities.
But the CSO’s research and publication process is also quite distinctive. The Centre’s activities are mainly organised around the production of collective book series on a broad theme (e.g., morphogenic society). Every year, the CSO’s active members gather for a week-long research workshop in which they discuss the draft chapter they have prepared for the next volume. This way of proceeding fosters interdisciplinarity, not only because it gathers experts drawn from various disciplines but also because each author discusses (and influences) others’ contributions to the forthcoming volume while having read their chapters in past volumes.
Although membership has never been conditioned on allegiance to any particular ontological stance, most authors have been inspired, to varying degrees, by the philosophy of critical realism advocated by Margaret Archer, Roy Bhaskar and Tony Lawson. Most papers acknowledge, explicitly or implicitly, the worth of social justice and of human flourishing while considering society as an open system whose future may be influenced by sociological awareness and purposeful collective action.
To date, the CSO has researched the topics of morphogenic society (five volumes with Springer, 2011-17) and of post-human society (four volumes with Routledge, 2017-21). It has received a book prize and c. £1,000,000 in funding, mainly from the Independent Social Research Foundation (www.isrf.org). Since 2018, the CSO has been hosted by Grenoble Ecole de Management (Chaire Numérique).