Margaret Archer was interviewed by the Times Higher Education this week, following her recent appointment as president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. You can read the full interview here.
Sociological Realism, edited By Andrea Maccarini, Emmanuele Morandi, Riccardo Prandini, presents a clear and updated discussion of the main tenets and issues of social theory, written by some of the top scholars within the critical realist and relational approach. It connects such approaches systematically to other strands of thought that are central in contemporary sociology, like systems theory and rational choice theory.
Divided into three parts, social ontology, sociological theory, and methodology, each part includes a systematic presentation, a comment, and a wider discussion by the editors, thereby taking on the form of a dialogue among experts. This book is a uniquely blended and consistent conversation showing the convergence of European social theory on a critical realist and relational way of thinking.
This volume is extremely important both for teaching purposes and for all those scholars who wish to get a fresh perspective on some deep dynamics of contemporary sociology.
Find out more on the publisher’s site.
International Centre for Critical Realism conference: From the anatomy of the global crisis to the ontology of human flourishing
The International Centre of Critical Realism presents the 17th annual conference of the International Association of Critical Realism.
Friday 18th – Monday 21st July 2014
Institute of Education
University of London
20 Bedford Way
London WC1H 0AL
The following Early Bird discounted rates are available until 30 May:
- £240.00 – IACR members
- £320.00 – non-IACR members
- £195.00 – Students and unwaged
From the anatomy of the global crisis…
Since 2008, what began with an initial collapse of the financial system has catalysed into an economic and political crisis of global dimensions. Lurking in the shadows of the financial crisis and occasionally breaching daylight is the ecological crisis. Global warming and climate change hangs like a sword of Damocles over the future of humanity. This is to say nothing of business as usual: growing inequality and impoverishment, continuing discrimination and exploitation, all of which functions to foster moral, psychological and existential crises. Current orthodoxy suggests that such crises are only temporary deviations from an otherwise well-functioning system. Prevailing pessimism suggests that it is easier to imagine global catastrophe and the destruction of the world rather than a change in the status quo able to avert such an outcome.
…to the ontology of human flourishing
In light of the global poly-crisis two questions are now before us; ‘how are we to understand our current situation?’ and ‘what are we to do?’ Albert Einstein is widely accredited as answering this by suggesting “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” This new thinking is what critical realism aspires to provide. Certainly, if we are not only to survive but flourish as human beings we require a robust theory and practice able to move us beyond modest business as usual to the possibilities of something more. The 17th Annual Conference of the International Association of Critical Realism (IACR) will explore the different issues connected with this crisis.
Wednesday 16 – Thursday 17 July
- Pre-conference workshop on critical realism
Led by Roy Bhaskar, originator of the philosophy of critical realisim (and metaReality) and Alan Norrie, president of IACR
Friday 18 July
- Educating for the future
– The ecological crisis
– Forms of realism
- Book launch with drinks reception
Saturday 19 July
- The political-economic crisis
– Ethics, emancipation and metaReality in action
– Dialectic and critical realism
- Conference Dinner
Sunday 20 July
- Ontology of flourishing
– Love, sexuality and feminism in the 21st century
– Religion, spirituality and secularism
- IACR Annual General Meeting
Monday 21 July
- Where do we go from here?
– Educating for a better future
– Concrete eutopianism
- ICCR Annual General Meeting and a workshop on the philosophy of metaReality
Tuesday 22 July
- Symposium on integrative metatheories
- Priscilla Alderson (Institute of Education)
- Richard Andrews (Institute of Education)
- Margaret Archer (L’Ecole Polythechnique Federale de Lausanne)
- Alison Assiter (University of Western England)
- Roy Bhaskar (Institute of Education)
- Berth Danermark (Orebro, Sweden)
- Hans Despain (Nichols College, Massachussets)
- Sean Esbjörn-Hargens (Meridian, California)
- Lena Gunnarsson (Orebro, Sweden)
- David Graeber (London School of Economics)
- Mervyn Hartwig (IACR/ICCR)
- Nick Hostettler (Queen Mary, University of London)
- Chris Husbands (Institute of Education)
- Bob Jessop (Lancaster University)
- Petter Næss (Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Oslo)
- Alan Norrie (Warwick University)
- Christopher Norris (Cardiff University)
- Alister McGrath (Oxford University)
- Doug Porpora (Drexel)
- Richard Pring (Oxford University)
- Michael Reiss (Institute of Education)
- David Scott (Institute of Education)
- Christian Smith (Notre Dame University)
- George Steinmetz (Michigan University)
- Michael Schwartz (Georgia Regents University)
- Frederic Vandenberghe (UERJ, Brazil)
- Michael Young (Institute of Education)
What’s the Point of Social Ontology?
PhD Workshop at the University of Warwick
18th June 2014, 10am – 5:30pm
Ontology can often prove a contested and confusing issue within social research. Everyone has an ontology, explicit or otherwise, but the process of drawing this out and thinking through its implications for research can often be a confusing part of the PhD process. This participatory workshop explores the practical significance of ontological questions for social research, inviting participants to reflect on their own research projects in a collaborative and supportive context. It aims to help participants negotiate the sometimes abstruse matter of social ontology, linking theory to practice in the context of their own research projects. The main focus throughout the day will be on how ontological questions are encountered in social research, the questions posed by such encounters and how engaging explicitly with social ontology can often help resolve such issues.
All participants will offer a brief (5 minute) presentation of their research project and the ontological questions which have been or are expected to be encountered within it. Those still early in the PhD process are welcome to substitute this for a discussion of their research interests and potential project. We’d like to ask all participants to reflect in advance on their own social ontology and how it pertains to their project. Uncertainty here is not a problem, in fact it will be a useful contribution to discussions on the day!
We also invite two more substantial presentations (10 mins) for the first afternoon session, reflecting on your engagement with ontological questions in your own project in order to help begin a practical engagement which encompasses the entire group. If you would be interested in leading the discussion in this way then please make this known when registering.
To register please contact email@example.com with a brief description of your research and your interest in social ontology (500 words or less) by May 15th. The event is free but places are limited. Travel bursaries are available, please ask for more details.
The latest CSO workshop was held in January 2014, in Magdalen College at the University of Oxford. The papers from the workshop will be published in 2015 as the third volume of the Social Morphogenesis series. These were the papers presented:
Monday 6th January
Philip Gorski – Causal Mechanisms: lessons from the Life Sciences
Colin Wight – Mechanisms, Metaphors and some examples from International Relations
Pierpaolo Donati – Social Mechanisms and their Feedbacks: Mechanical versus Relational Emergence of new Social Formations
Emmanuel Lazega – Dynamics of multilevel networks in social processes: hardwired social control, institutional enterpeneurship and morphogenesis
Tuesday 7th January
Margaret Archer – Don’t Forget the Double Morphogenesis
Tony Lawson – The Modern Corporation as an Out-of-Control Mechanism of Social Change
Andrea Maccarini – Turbulence and Relational Conjunctures: The Emergence of Morphogenetic Environments
Wolfgang Hofkirchner – ‘Mechanisms’ around information society
Wednesday 8th January
Douglas Porpora – Why Don’t Things Change?
Ismael Al-Amoudi and John Latsis – Death Contested: Morphonecrosis and Conflicts of Interpretation
In January 2013, the Center for Social Ontology held its annual workshop with the theme ‘Morphogenic Society’ as a potential new social formation?. The papers presented have been published as Late Modernity: Trajectories Towards Morphogenic Society. The program of papers was as follows:
‘Morphogenic Society’ as a potential new social formation?
16th-18th January 2013
Wednesday 16th January: Papers
Margaret Archer: The Generative Mechanisms Re-configuring Late modernity
Douglas Porpora: What are the forms of change and stability in today’s world and what are the mechanisms?
Colin Wight: Morphogenesis and other mechanisms of qualitative change in international relations
Thursday 17th January: Papers
Andrea Maccarini: Social Change and social qualities in a ‘Morophenic Society’: Symbols, Forms of Life and Individuality
Ismael Al-Amoudi: Morphogenesis and Normativity: problems the former creates for the latter
Emmanuel Lazega: Dynamics of multilevel networks in the organizational society: ‘Morphogenesis Unbound’ from a neo-structural perspective
Thursday 18th January
Wolfgang Hofkirchner: The validity of describing ‘Morphogenic Society’ as a system and justifiability of thinking about it as a social formation
Kate Forbes-Pitt: ‘Relations between relations’: different or similar in the Natural and Social orders?
From Modernity to Morphogenesis was the CSO’s first annual invited workshop. The workshop was headed by Margaret Archer and the papers were published as Social Morphogenesis.
The workshop attendees were (in order of presentations):
Network Dynamics and the regulatory process: a neo-structural approach to morphogenesis
Regularity and Emergence: two frontiers in the morphogenetic approach
Relations of Authority, obligations and roles
The Morphogenesis of Social Networks: relational steering beyond positive and negative feedbacks
Self-organizing as the mechanism of development and evolution in social systems
Emergence: relating emergents and morphogenesis
Emergence, Downward Causation and Causal Reduction
Social Change as Morphogenesis
Morphogenesis, Continuity and Change in the International Political System
We’ve all seen the images from Abu Ghraib: stress positions, US soldiers kneeling on the heads of prisoners, and dehumanizing pyramids formed from black-hooded bodies. We have watched officials elected to our highest offices defend enhanced interrogation in terms of efficacy and justify drone strikes in terms of retribution and deterrence. But the mainstream secular media rarely addresses the morality of these choices, leaving us to ask individually: Is this right?
In this singular examination of the American discourse over war and torture, Douglas V. Porpora, Alexander Nikolaev, Julia Hagemann May, and Alexander Jenkins investigate the opinion pages of American newspapers, television commentary, and online discussion groups to offer the first empirical study of the national conversation about the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the revelations of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib a year later. Post-Ethical Society is not just another shot fired in the ongoing culture war between conservatives and liberals, but a pensive and ethically engaged reflection of America’s feelings about itself and our actions as a nation. And while many writers and commentators have opined about our moral place in the world, the vast amount of empirical data amassed in Post-Ethical Society sets it apart—and makes its findings that much more damning.
See the publisher’s page for more information
Sociology was born seeking answers to four questions: “Where have we come from?,” “What is it like now?,” “Where are we going?,” and “What is to be done?” These are all realist questions: there is a real social world with real properties inhabited by real people who collectively made the past and whose causal powers are already shaping the future. One way in which Weber expressed the vocation of sociology was to discover why things are “so” and not “otherwise.” Those who have made this commitment could never accept Baudrillard’s conclusion: “All that remains to be done is to play with the pieces.” Ibn Khaldun might have called that the hallmark of a decadent civilization.
What is more damaging than postmodernist “playfulness” is actually breaking up the pieces. All social life – micro-, meso- and macroscopic – necessarily comes in a SAC; the relations between “structure,” “agency,” and “culture” are always indispensable to explaining anything social.
Without being fussy about definitions, leave out “structure” and the contexts people face become kaleidoscopically contingent; omit culture and no one has a repertoire of ideas for construing the situations that they confront; without agency we lose activity-dependence as the efficient cause of there being a social order. The vocation of sociology is to account for their interplay and resulting configurations. By breaking up the pieces and then pulverizing them, too many social theorists have renounced their vocations and become morticians, writing out death certificates for each component of SAC. Yet, with these “deaths” every part of the world is deprived of its toolkit for explaining why things are so and how they could be otherwise.
Where “structures” are concerned, current “de-structuration” theories replace them with flows. The metaphor of liquidity points to the ultimate uncontrollability of the social. This was heralded by the “runaway,” “juggernaut,” and “risk” societies, but the flood has gained momentum and is floating out into the sea of self-organized phenomena charted by complexity theory. However, unfitness for purpose is glaring in the face of the current economic crisis. This crisis has revealed part of a structure previously occluded. We know more now about the structuring of global finance capital and its intertwining with the multinationals and national governments than ever before 2008. All that is solid has not melted into air, but derivatives, sub-prime mortgages, foreign exchange dealing and debt trading take more understanding than Fordism.
Because the structured positions, relations, and interests are indeed complicated, the media have trivialized and personalized the crisis in terms of bankers’ bonuses and helping some greedy heads to roll. The “Occupy movements” testify to the missing sociological toolkit. Are they opposing austerity measures or global finance capitalism? Whilst London seemed unsure, the Geneva movement holds regular seminars in which to come to grips with the intricacies involved. Associations of heterodox economists have generally been of more assistance than sociologists. Where is our equivalent to Stefano Zamagni’s analysis of the damaging contributions made by the last ten Nobel Prize winners in economics? What has our contribution been to envisaging a civil economy?
This leads to “culture” and the huge role that TINA (“there is no alternative”) has played in the attempt to return to “business as usual.” The “cultural turn” privileged discourse, but the crisis cannot be reduced to the discursive. The hegemony of discourse displaced the concept of ideology, consigning it to the trash can of “zombie” class warfare. With it, the crucial nexus between ideas and interests was lost as the site of legitimation politics. Lost too were ideational sources of critique, not merely as expressive activities (there is plenty on them), but as resources in social mobilization (whose absence empowers TINA). Ironically, as the flows turn into floods, there is a perverse clinging to habit, dispositional habitus and routine action in sociology, despite their incongruity with rapid change. Yet, as the great American pragmatists were the first to stress it, problem situations are the midwives of reflexive innovation.
Finally, and most serious is the death of the subject, erased as Foucault put it more than 40 years ago, “like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea.” Since then our human erasure has been repeated by many board-cleaners: persons becoming open slates for self-inscription (Gergen), serially re-invented selves (Beck), and ultimately, demotion to the agential “actant.” With the death of the subject, intentionality, reflexivity, caring, and commitment also make their exit, together with the uniquely human capacity to envisage how the social could be “otherwise.”
Those defending our human liabilities and potentialities have been quite rare; hence Andrew Sayer’s need to write his excellent book on Why Things Matter to People. Sociology retains a humanistic strand but its approach to the humane is rather stifled. Thus, loneliness and isolation are not popular themes compared with marginalization and exclusion, but they are just as much scourges of the developed world and among its exports. Sociologists are also more forceful in accentuating our susceptibility to suffering than to flourishing. We have been too timid about advancing a “Sociology of Thriving,” largely limiting ourselves to indisputable biological needs. Why is there no sociology of joy, little mention of exultation or rich contentment and why is happiness left to the metrics of economists? Answering these questions is a predicate of sociology contributing to the definition of a flourishing civil society.
Today, the leading trope is “liquid modernity,” but metaphors explain nothing and often mislead (remember the mechanical, organic and cybernetic similes). Particular theories of change have accentuated one element of SAC alone: “culture” for “Information Society;” “structure” for “Globalized Capitalism” or “Empire;” and “agency” for the “institutionalized individualism” of “Reflexive Modernization.” Each seizes upon one (empirically striking) component, considers it to be the leading part and wrongly equates it with the generative mechanism of change. Instead, we need to examine the SAC synergies and positive feedbacks making social morphogenesis the process responsible for intensifying change – in a non-metaphorical manner.
– Margaret Archer
This was originally published in Global Dialogue: Newsletter of the International Sociological Association, 3:1. It is reproduced here with permission.