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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 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).
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.
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.
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]gmail.com.
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
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.
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.
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: https://bristoluniversitypress.co.uk/the-public-and-their-platforms
With emerging technologies now widely assumed to be calling into question assumptions about human beings and their place within the world, and computational innovations of machine learning leading some to claim we are coming ever closer to the long-sought artificial general intelligence, it defends humanity with the argument that technological ‘advances’ introduced artificially into some humans do not annul their fundamental human qualities. Against the challenge presented by the possibility that advanced artificial intelligence will be fully capable of original thinking, creative self-development and moral judgement and therefore have claims to legal rights, the authors advance a form of ‘essentialism’ that justifies providing a ‘decent minimum life’ for all persons. As such, while the future of the human is in question, the authors show how dispensing with either the category itself or the underlying reality is a less plausible solution than is often assumed.
1. Being Human (or What?) in the Digital Matrix Land: The Construction of the Humanted – Pierpaolo Donati
2. Being Human as an Option: How to Rescue Personal Ontology from Transhumanism, and (Above All) Why Bother – Andrea M. Maccarini
3. Perplexity Logs: On Routinized Certainty Work and Social Consequences of Seeking Advice from an Artificial Intelligence – Emmanuel Lazega
4. Artificial Intelligence and the Challenge of Social Care in Aging Societies: Who or What Will Care for Us in the Future? – Jamie Morgan
Director of the Centre for Social Ontology, professor Ismael Al-Amoudi, recently appeared on Xerfi Canal to discuss the risks of techno-totalitarian drift in digital enterprises. The video can be viewed here (in French):