PhD Workshop: What’s the point of social ontology?

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 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.

From Modernity to Morphogenesis

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):

Andrea Maccarini

Andrea Maccarini:
Network Dynamics and the regulatory process: a neo-structural approach to morphogenesis

Immanuel Lazéga

Emmanuel Lazéga:
Regularity and Emergence: two frontiers in the morphogenetic approach

Pierpaolo DonatiPierpaolo Donati:
Relations of Authority, obligations and roles

Ismael Al-Amoudi

Ismael Al-Amoudi:
The Morphogenesis of Social Networks: relational steering beyond positive and negative feedbacks

Wolfgang HofkirchnerWolfgang Hofkirchner:
Self-organizing as the mechanism of development and evolution in social systems

Kate Forbes-Pitt

Kate Forbes-Pitt:
Emergence: relating emergents and morphogenesis

Tony LawsonTony Lawson:
Emergence, Downward Causation and Causal Reduction

Doug Porpora

Doug Porpora:
Social Change as Morphogenesis

Colin WightColin Wight:
Morphogenesis, Continuity and Change in the International Political System

Workshop attendees


Research Features synthesis of Andrea Maccarini’s book Deep change and emergent structures in global society.

The CSO is glad to share a two-page Research Features synthesis ‘Transition and the morphogenetic approach to social change’ of the book Deep change and emergent structures in global society: Explorations in social morphogenesis (2019) by Andrea Maccarini, professor of Sociology at the University of Padova (Italy), Department of Political Science, Law & International Studies.  

“Dr Maccarini explains: “The idea is that such an approach can help keep together chance, structural forces, human plans and agency in one model. The approach is focussed on the points where structure, culture, agency, and chance interact to generate, establish or reject social novelties.”” (Maccarini, cited by Research Features).

Image from Ibex73, Wikipedia Commons under CC BY-SA 4.0

Are post-human technologies dehumanizing? Human enhancement and artificial intelligence in contemporary societies – Ismael Al-Amoudi.

Ismael Al-Amoudi, Director of the CSO, Professor at Grenoble Ecole de Management, has recently published an article in the Journal of Critical Realism, entitled Are post-human technologies dehumanizing? Human enhancement and artificial intelligence in contemporary societies.

We are happy to highlight this article, in which Ismael Al-Amoudi mobilises a number of chapters published by CSO members within the latest book series ‘Post-human society and the future of humanity’, so to explore dehumanizing potentials of post-human technologies.

“I cannot state how much my thinking has benefitted from discussing and reading the works of other CSO writers while I was treading my own little path through the wonders of post-human society. This intellectual journey has allowed me to investigate the following question: post-human technologies offer great hopes and great perils to human beings, but in what sense are post-human technologies dehumanizing?” (Al-Amoudi, 2022, p. 521).

On that note, the CSO wishes all a fully human Christmastime!

Image from David S. Soriano, Wikipedia Commons under CC BY-SA 4.0

Book review: Carrigan, M., & Porpora, D. (Eds.). (2021). Post-human futures: Human enhancement, artifical intelligence and social theory. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

Dr. Birgül Ulutaş (Eregli Faculty of Education, Zonguldak Bülent Ecevit University, Zonguldak, Turkey) has just written a book review for Post‑Human Futures: Human Enhancement, Artificial
Intelligence and Social Theory
. This third volume of the CSO’s latest book series on ‘Post-human society and the future of humanity’ was edited by Dr. Mark Carrigan and Prof. Douglas Porpora.

The review appears in the journal Postdigital Science and Education and can be accessed here.

“Post-Human Futures: Human Enhancement, Artificial Intelligence and Social Theory (Carrigan and Porpora 2021) distinguishes between the epistemological and the ontological realms and establishes a new humanism that will be meaningful to praxis.” (Ulutaş, 2022).

Image: ‘Humani Victus Instrumenta: Ars Coquinaria’ (Unknown Italian master, 1569), Public Domain.

Book review: Al-Amoudi, I., & Morgan, J. (Eds.). (2019). Realist responses to post-human society: Ex machina. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

Prof. Andrew Sayer (Lancaster University, Sociology department) has just written a book review for Realist Responses to Post-Human Society: Ex Machina. This first volume of the CSO’s latest book series on ‘Post-human society and the future of humanity’ was edited by Profs. Ismael Al-Amoudi and Jamie Morgan.

The review appears in the journal Organization and can be accessed here.

“What comes across most clearly is that we cannot avoid issues of how we characterise the human, the nature of personhood, intelligence and the components of flourishing, and how we should value them vis-a-vis other species or intelligent machines” (Sayer, 2022).

Image from Geralt, CC0 1.0

Reading the Technological Society to Understand the Mechanization of Values and Its Ontological Consequences – Dirk Lindebaum et al.

Dirk Lindebaum, Professor at Grenoble Ecole de Management, together with his co-authors Christine Moser of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Mehreen Ashraf of Cardiff Business School & Vern L. Glaser of University of Alberta, has recently published an article in the Academy of Management Review, entitled Reading the Technological Society to Understand the Mechanization of Values and Its Ontological Consequences.

The CSO is glad to share this essay article. It creatively reviews Jacques Ellul’s book The Technological Society to develop theories at the intersection of ‘technique’, ethics, organisations, institutions, and ontology.

Image from Pierre André Leclercq, CC BY-SA 4.0

IACR Conference 2022 – The Hague + Zoom, August 8-12

The 2022 Annual Conference of the International Association for Critical Realism (IACR) will take place from the 10th to the 12th of August 2022 (+ pre-conference on the 8th and the 9th of August 2022). It will be hosted by the International Institute of Social Sciences (ISS) in the Hague (Netherlands) part of the Erasmus University of Rotterdam. Details of the event, including themes this year centred around ‘Realist Complexity, between Causal and Complex Systems’ can be found on the conference website here.

Roundtable discussion: The Limits of the Human in Post-human Society – Grenoble Ecole de Management, Jan 14 2022

The ninth annual Centre for Social Ontology workshop will take place at Grenoble Ecole de Management from January 11th to January 14th, 2022. It will culminate in a roundtable with Prof. Margaret Archer and colleagues on the morning of Friday January 14th.

This roundtable is intended both as an intellectual exchange and as a celebration of the recent quadrilogy The Future of the Human.

Until the most recent decades, natural and social science could regard the ‘human being’ as their unproblematic point of reference, with monsters, clones and drones being acknowledged as fantasies dreamed up for the purposes of fiction or academic argument. In future, this common, taken for granted benchmark will be replaced by various amalgams of human biology supplemented by technology – a fact that has direct implications for democracy, social governance and human rights, owing to questions surrounding standards for social inclusion, participation and legal protection.

Considering the question of who or what counts as a human being and the challenges posed by anti-humanism, the implications for the global social order of the technological ability of some regions of the world to ‘enhance’ human biology, and the defence of humankind in the face of artificial intelligence, the books in this series examine the challenges posed to the universalism of humankind by various forms of anti-humanism, and seek to defend ‘human essentialism’ by accentuating the liabilities and capacities particular to human beings alone.

Those interested in attending are requested to RSVP before December 15th with Ismael Al-Amoudi: ismael[dot]al-amoudi[at]

Friday 14th January 2022, Grenoble Ecole de Management, room E341

09.30: Roundtable with Prof. Margaret Archer and colleagues from the Centre for Social Ontology
12:00: Light buffet

IACR Conference 2021 – online, September 20-24

The 2021 Annual Conference of the International Association for Critical Realism (#IACR2021) will be held online this year. Hosted by Rhodes University and the University of Witwatersrand (South Africa), it will take place via Zoom from the 20th to the 24th of September. Details of the event, including subthemes this year centred around the unifying theme of emancipation, can be found here.

What is Essential to Being Human? Can AI Robots Not Share It?

The latest volume of the Post-human Society and the Future of Humanity book series has been published and is available for purchase from Routledge. Edited by Margaret Archer and Andrea Maccarini, this compilation of essays “asks whether there exists an essence exclusive to human beings despite their continuous enhancement – a nature that can serve to distinguish humans from artificially intelligent robots, now and in the foreseeable future.”

Considering what might qualify as such an essence, this volume demonstrates that the abstract question of ‘essentialism’ underpins a range of social issues that are too often considered in isolation and usually justify ‘robophobia’, rather than ‘robophilia’, in terms of morality, social relations and legal rights. Any defence of human exceptionalism requires clarity about what property(ies) ground it and an explanation of why these cannot be envisaged as being acquired (eventually) by AI robots. As such, an examination of the conceptual clarity of human essentialism and the role it plays in our thinking about dignity, citizenship, civil rights and moral worth is undertaken in this volume. What is Essential to Being Human? will appeal to scholars of social theory and philosophy with interests in human nature, ethics and artificial intelligence.


1. Introduction – Margaret S. Archer and Andrea M. Maccarini

2. On Robophilia and Robophobia – Douglas V. Porpora

3. Sapience and Sentience: A Reply to Porpora – Margaret S. Archer

4. Relational Essentialism – Pierpaolo Donati

5. Artificial Intelligence: Sounds like a friend, looks like a friend, is it a friend? – Jamie Morgan

6. Growing Up in a World of Platforms: What Changes and What Doesn’t? – Mark Carrigan

7. On Macropolitics of Knowledge for Collective Learning in the Age of AI-Boosted Big Relational Tech – Emmanuel Lazega and Jaime Montes-Lihn

8. Can AIs do Politics? – Gazi Islam

9. Inhuman Enhancements? When Human Enhancements Alienate from Self, Others, Society and Nature – Ismael Al-Amoudi

10. The Social Meanings of Perfection: Human Self-Understanding in a Post-Human Society – Andrea M. Maccarini

The Public and Their Platforms: Public Sociology in an Era of Social Media

Mark Carrigan, together with coauthor Lambros Fatsis, has recently published this volume on public sociology in the context of social media.

As social media is increasingly becoming a standard feature of sociological practice, this timely book rethinks the role of these mediums in public sociology and what they can contribute to the discipline in the post-COVID world. It reconsiders the history and current conceptualizations of what sociology is, and analyzes what kinds of social life emerge in and through the interactions between ‘intellectuals’, ‘publics’ and ‘platforms’ of communication. Cutting across multiple disciplines, this pioneering work envisions a new kind of public sociology that brings together the digital and the physical to create public spaces where critical scholarship and active civic engagement can meet in a mutually reinforcing way.

Find out more on the publisher’s website: