Morphogenetic society

In this book series, the members of the CSO together examined the spread, and significance, of contemporary social configurations in which mechanisms generating social transformation dominate mechanisms generating social stability. While each CSO member has expertise in a social-scientific discipline, our project was inter-disciplinary as each author advanced her/his thinking through constant discussion, over the years, with CSO colleagues.

As a group, we examined a broad range of novel social problems arising from social morphogenesis unbound: from the growth of anormative bureaucratic regulation (Archer 2016) to novel forms of inter-State conflict (Wight 2014; 2016). And from reflections on Late Modernity’s missing institutions (Al-Amoudi 2017) to discussions of the nature of limited liability corporations, which are both a legal fiction that escapes normative control and one of the most powerful generative mechanisms in today’s societies (Lawson 2015).

The results of this collective research project have been disseminated through five co-authored books published with Springer. The last volume of the Morphogenic Society project, Social Morphogenesis and Human Flourishing, was awarded the Cheryl Frank Prize in August 2018. This was an uncommon achievement for an edited collection but perhaps also a testimony to the CSO’s ability to produce excellent books that are worth more than the sum of their chapters.

Volume I: Archer, MS (Ed.) (2013). Social Morphogenesis. Springer.

The rate of social change has speeded up in the last three decades, but how do we explain this? This volume ventures what the generative mechanism is that produces such rapid change and discusses how this differs from late Modernity. Contributors examine if an intensification of morphogenesis (positive feedback that results in a change in social form) and a corresponding reduction in morphostasis (negative feedback that restores or reproduces the form of the social order) best captures the process involved. 

This volume resists proclaiming a new social formation as so many books written by empiricists have done by extrapolating from empirical data.  Until we can convincingly demonstrate that a new generative mechanism is at work, it is premature to argue what accounts for the global changes that are taking place and where they will lead. More concisely we seek to answer the question whether or not current social change can be regarded as social morphogenesis. Only then, in the next volumes will the same team of authors be able to remove the question mark.

Volume II: Archer, MS (Ed.) (2014). Late Modernity. Springer.

This volume examines the reasons for intensified social change after 1980; a peaceful process of a magnitude that is historically unprecedented. It examines the kinds of novelty that have come about through morphogenesis and the elements of stability that remain because of morphostasis. It is argued that this pattern cannot be explained simply by ‘acceleration’. Instead, we must specify the generative mechanism(s) involved that underlie and unify ordinary people’s experiences of different disjunctions in their lives. The book discusses the umbrella concept of ‘social morphogenesis’ and the possibility of transition to a ‘Morphogenic Society’. It examines possible ‘generative mechanisms’ accounting for the effects of ‘social morphogenesis’ in transforming previous and much more stable practices. Finally, it seeks to answer the question of what is required in order to justify the claim that Morphogenic society can supersede modernity.

Volume III: Archer, MS (Ed.) (2015). Generative Mechanisms Transforming the Social Order. Springer.

This volume examines how generative mechanisms emerge in the social order and their consequences. It does so in the light of finding answers to the general question posed in this book series: Will Late Modernity be replaced by a social formation that could be called Morphogenic Society? This volume clarifies what a ‘generative mechanism’ is, to achieve a better understanding of their social origins, and to delineate in what way such mechanisms exert effects within a current social formation, either stabilizing it or leading to changes potentially replacing it . The book explores questions about conjuncture, convergence and countervailing effects of morphogenetic mechanisms in order to assess their impact. Simultaneously, it looks at how products of positive feedback intertwine with the results of (morphostatic) negative feedback. This process also requires clarification, especially about the conditions under which morphostasis prevails over morphogenesis and vice versa. It raises the issue as to whether their co-existence can be other than short-lived. The volume addresses whether or not there also is a process of ‘morpho-necrosis’, i.e. the ultimate demise of certain morphostatic mechanisms, such that they cannot ‘recover’. The book concludes that not only are generative mechanisms required to explain associations between variables involved in the replacement of Late Modernity by Morphogenic Society, but they are also robust enough to account for cases and times when such variables show no significant correlations.

Volume IV: Archer, MS (Ed.) (2016). Morphogenesis and the Crisis of Normativity. Springer.

This volume explores the development and consequences of morphogenesis on normative regulation. It starts out by describing the great normative transformations from morphostasis, as the precondition of a harmonious relationship between legal validity and normative consensus in society, to morphogenesis, which tends to strongly undermine existing laws, norms, rules, rights and obligations because of the new variety it introduces. Next, it studies the decline of normative consensus resulting from the changes in the social contexts that made previous forms of normativity, based upon ‘habits, ‘habitus’ and ‘routine action’, unhelpfully misleading because they no longer constituted relevant guidelines to action. It shows how this led to the ‘Reflexive Imperative’ with subjects having to work out their own purposeful actions in relation to their objective social circumstances and their personal concerns, if they were to be active rather than passive agents. Finally, the book analyses what makes for chance in normativity, and what will underwrite future social regulation. It discusses whether it is possible to establish a new corpus of laws, norms and rules, given that intense morphogenesis denies the durability of any new stable context.

Volume V: Archer, MS (Ed.) (2017). Morphogenesis and Human Flourishing. Springer.

This book, the last volume in the Social Morphogenesis series, examines whether or not a Morphogenic society can foster new modes of human relations that could exercise a form of ‘relational steering’, protecting and promoting a nuanced version of the good life for all. It analyses the way in which the intensification of morphogenesis and the diminishing of morphostasis impact upon human flourishing. The book links intensified morphogenesis to promoting human flourishing based on the assumption that new opportunities open up novel experiences, skills, and modes of communication that appeal to talents previously lacking any outlet or recognition. It proposes that equality of opportunity would increase as ascribed characteristics diminished in importance, and it could be maintained as the notion of achievement continued to diversify. Digitalization has opened the cultural ‘archive’ for more to explore and, as it expands exponentially, so do new complementary compatibilities whose development foster yet further opportunities. If more people can do more of what they do best, these represent stepping stones towards the ‘good life’ for more of them.