All posts by socialontology2019

De/Humanisation and Organization at EGOS

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.

Convergences of General System Theory, Critical Realism and Theory of Society

Our collaborator Wolfgang  Hofkirchner recently gave a paper at the ISA in Vienna (available online here)  in which he discussed philosophical, that is, praxiological, ontological and epistemological foundations of a theory of social systems. In particular, he addressed the confluence of critical thinking and systems thinking – of Critical Theory and Systems Philosophy – in the context of social theory. Critical Theory has its origins in the Frankfurt School going back to Marx and has developed since into a variety of different approaches. Systems Philosophy is considered as having its origins in Ludwig von Bertalanffy’s General System Theory. It has been developing in the discourse about Evolutionary Systems and Complexity Thinking.

A special focus was given to the post-Luhmannian attempts to reframe the social (Poe Yu-Ze Wan 2011: Reframing the social: Emergentist Systemism and Social Theory). They show a striking affinity of two strands: Critical Realism, on the one hand, that is grounded on some Marxian assumptions and dialectical logic – in particular, the approach of Social Ontology as represented by Margaret S. Archer (with whom the Bertalanffy Center has been co-operating since 2012) – and Emergentist Systemism, on the other, a well-cast term for the gist of Systems Philosophy so far, going back to Mario Bunge (whom the BCSSS awarded the Ludwig von Bertalanffy Award in Complexity Thinking in 2014).

In contradistinction to suggestions such as to even de-ontologise Luhmann’s theory of social systems that gave already rise to rather constructivist views, Hofkirchner would promote to revisit some Luhmannian topoi and interpret those in the light of the mentioned convergences so as to fit a more coherent social theory.

Interested in the internal conversation? Come to this symposium @SocioWarwick on May 24th

Following on from a succesful event this time last year, we’re organising another reflexivity forum. We potentially have one more speaking slot available but we’re still keen for others to come along for the discussion. Here’s the programme for the day:

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E-mail: if you’d like to register – please do so ASAP though as we’ll be placing the catering order soon.

Reflexivity Forum

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.

To register contact

Workshop: The Morphogenetic Approach

June 21st, 10am to 5pm
The University of Warwick

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 with a brief biography and description of your project.

The Fifth CSO Workshop: Morphogenesis & Eudaimonia

The fifth annual Centre for Social Ontology workshop took place from the 5th to 8th January 2016 at Sciences Po in Paris. The papers will be published as the fifth and final volume of the Social Morphogenesis series.

Tuesday 5th January: Eudaimonia and the Good Society

Phil Gorski – Human Flourishing and Human Morphogenesis
Doug Porpora –  Some Reservations about Flourishing
Maggie Archer – Human Thriving in the three Orders of Natural Reality
Andrea Maccarini – The Remains of the West: The Morphogenic Society as Source and Challenge to Human Fulfillment

Wednesday 6th January: Morphogenesis at the Macro-, Meso- and Micro-Levels of Society

Pierpaolo Donati – What does a ‘Good Life’ Mean in a Morphogenic Society?
Emmanuel Lazega – Networks and Commons: current organizational struggles to shape new sharing institutions
Mark Carrigan – The Challenge of Flourishing Amidst Variety
Wolfgang Hofkirchner – Creating Common Good :The vision of The Global Sustainable Information Society

Thursday 7th January: Eudaimonia and Social Institutions

Colin Wight  – Wars and human Flourishing
Ismael Al-Amoudi – Social Reflexivity and Political Reflexivity in a just Morphogenic society
Jamie Morgan – Corporations, taxation and responsibility: practical and onto-analytical issues for morphogenesis and eudaimonia

IACR 2016 Reminder

Deadline 31 Jan 2016. Submission guidelines on:

We are also delighted to inform you about the following developments:

1. We are currently applying for funding to support PhD students. If you would like to be considered for a grant, please mention it on your abstract.

2. Our Yale colleagues (Margarita Mooney, Phil Gorski, Tim Rutzou) will be holding a post-conference discussion on CR methods on the day immediately following the conference. More info soon.

3. Alan Norrie is assembling papers for stream(s) on What’s love got to do with it?’ If you would like to see your paper included in that stream, please mention ‘what has love got to do with it?’ as a sub-title for your abstract.

Looking forward to a thoughtful and stimulating event,

Ismael Al-Amoudi, Joe O’Mahoney & Tim Edwards

Towards a Digital Social Ontology

Here are the talks from our Digital Social Ontology symposium, which took place in London, July 8th, 2015. This event was funded by the Independent Social Research Foundation. 

Nick Couldry –  Refiguring the social: Remembering Elias

Noortje Marres – Does digital sociology have a problem?

Alistair Mutch – Organizational implications of digital data

Emma Uprichard – Big data, complexity and time

Susan Halford – Ontologies of social data

Jochen Runde – An object orientated approach to digital social ontology