Causal Agency and Cognitive Micro-Foundations

One final Roy Bhaskar snippet from the Formation of Critical Realism (Pg 64). This is a quote from Bhaskar about one thing that prompted a thought by me about a very different thing:

In experimental activity it is our role as causal agents that is vital, not our role as thinkers, and that immediately gets us out of the purely mental sphere.

This a formulation I want to adopt for explaining my understanding of reflexivity. The point when talking about internal conversation is not to assert the relevance of a purely mental sphere for sociological inquiry. I don’t think this is a sustainable position to take. The invocation of the mental sphere is not because sociology should be interested in ‘our role as thinkers’ but because sociology is interested in our causal agency and, so the argument goes, an adequate account of that agency needs to give some account of the ‘mental sphere’. I would never argue that ‘internal conversation’ is the only available account of the ‘mental sphere’ for sociology but I would happily assert that I don’t think it’s possible to have a coherent account of causal agency which doesn’t encompass a substantive understanding of subjectivity.

Another way of putting this would be to argue, following from this excellent paper by Omar Lizardo, that sociology needs cognitive micro-foundations. So I’m making two claims: (1) such cognitive micro-foundations are necessary (2) Archer’s notion of the ‘internal conversation’ is a powerful approach to providing these. It’s certainly not the only one though. As well as Lizardo’s neo-structuralist reading of Bourdieu, which I’m not well versed enough to assess textually but really endears Bourdieu to me by way of Piaget, we could also see an attempted phenomenological framing of the habitus in this way. For instance see this paper by Nick Crossley (drawing on Merleau-Ponty) or this book by Will Atkinson (drawing on Alfred Schutz). My own preference would be to try and flesh out Archer’s account, through a critical sociological reading of what seems to be a massive psychological literature on dual process theory.

One response to “Causal Agency and Cognitive Micro-Foundations”

  1. …dual process theory…two directional momentum…essential functions; affect/effect, intensive/extensive, spontaneous/determined, end-in-itself/means-to-ends, fundamental/optional…the pattern mapping holds good in the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of experience in the round as on the ground. Intrigue’s knocking: Can I come in?

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