The Sociological Review has just published a thought-provoking review of Doug Porpora’s Reconstructing Sociology: The Critical Realist Approach. It gives a lucid, though brief, overview of the book’s core arguments: seven myths which afflict American sociology and seven philosophical counter-points. But what caught my attention was the account of how theoretical work can increase the discipline’s capacity for impact:

Porpora shows how critical realism adjudicates across the plethora of sociological paradigms to create new consistency, which can strengthen the validity and usefulness of our discipline. Imagine governments redefining obesity or poor mental health from medical problems into social problems, to be tackled by wide-ranging interdisciplinary research coordinated through a coherent framework of sociology and covering, for example, the related economics and politics, industries and services, healthcare and urban planning, with studies of the complex everyday life of the groups and individuals concerned.

http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0038026117701357

The point is overstated but it’s nonetheless important: the internal dissensus of sociology militates against policy impact. The meta-theoretical (dis)orderliness of disciplines underpins the inarguable reality that “economists and psychologists are introduced as self-evidently respected scientists, whereas sociologists, if they are included at all, seem more likely to evoke scepticism than respect”. Rather than theoretical work being a distraction from aspiring to this status, it is in actual fact a condition for it:

One defence of our discipline’s diversity is that its adaptable rich variety can embrace numerous theories, methods and topics. However, variety does not preclude coherence, and coherence does not demand narrow uniformity – like the neoclassical mantras that now monopolise economics. Medicine is a hugely varied discipline yet, fortunately for society’s healthcare, it is unified by powerful common values and theories about causal realities. By contrast, and unfortunately for society’s wellbeing, sociology is split not only by disagreements but, more seriously, by basic contradictions: positivism accepts pristine independent social facts and aims to discover general laws, whereas interpretivism sees only local contingent variety; statistics and experiments are set against ethnography; sociology is variously taken to be value-free, relativist or a moral endeavour.

http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0038026117701357

Bringing meta-theoretical order to sociology doesn’t entail imposition of a unified paradigm on the discipline. It simply necessitates that we “position its many valuable insights and methods in relation to one another, showing how they connect and interact within larger relations, to be more like a coherent jigsaw puzzle in progress, rather than a heap of pieces”. Can we find unifying principles, providing standards by which we might draw out connections between otherwise isolated outputs of the discipline, which respect the intellectual diversity of the sociological enterprise? Can we begin to agree on standards about what constitutes ‘better’ and ‘worse’ sociology?

The problem is that disciplines most in need of such standards, in order to provide a centripetal mechanism, prove least able to establish them. Calling for such standards doesn’t entail a final resolution of theoretical questions, as if we all have to agree on the same answers in order to move forward as a collective project. But it does entail clarity about why we are asking the questions to which we are offering different answers.

 

A thought I had when reading this description of medical decision making in The New Ruthless Economy loc 1842. Medical diagnosis is a form of causal reasoning, alive to its own provisionality and fallibility, seeking to identify real mechanisms which explain events that have manifested empirically:

Physicians constantly have to make decisions based on incomplete or ambiguous evidence, decisions they must be ready to reverse in the light of the patient’s changing condition, and these decisions cannot be confined within the rigid straightjacket of process.

International Association for Critical Realism (IACR)
19th Annual Conference

Wednesday 20 – Friday 22 July 2016

Pre-conference workshop: Monday 18 – Tuesday 19 July 2016

Postgraduate Teaching Centre, Cardiff Business School
Colum Drive, Cardiff CF10 3EU

De/humanisation

The dehumanisation of contemporary societies

In many ways, our current epoch witnesses dehumanised social relations. While alienation (Marx) and disenchantment (Weber) or the deficit in social solidarity (Durkheim) are by no means recent phenomena, processes of dehumanisation continue to prevail in most spheres of society. In the public sphere, discussions privilege compliance with bureaucratic regulations and quantifiable indicators (such as GDP and its growth) over human needs and flourishing, have the effect of excluding large portions of the electorate from public debate while accelerating the demise of the Welfare State.

In the economic sphere, the financialisation of the economy and the spread of market ownership tend to privilege economic profitability over human well-being. Corporate Social Responsibility is thus deployed as a rhetorical device whose injunctions are followed mostly when they are profitable to corporate shareholders. Yet, contemporary observers of capitalism witness suffering, destitution and ethical corrosion, both in richer and in poorer countries. Equally worryingly, the private sphere also seems to have undergone dehumanisation: for instance, impersonal relations are the lot of ever-growing urban centres, whilst familial duties of care are gradually replaced either by indifference or by reliance on salaried transactions with professional carers.

The dehumanisation of the social sciences

The dehumanisation of society is mirrored, and perhaps intensified, by the exclusion of the notion of ‘human’ and ‘humanity’ from the social sciences and humanities in the second half of the 20thCentury. While philosophers such as Foucault, or more recently Butler, have warned against taken for granted conceptions of the human, their warnings seem to have produced effacement, rather than problematisation, of the category of ‘human’.

The realist tradition provides, however, salutary exceptions to this trend. In his dialectical critical realism, Bhaskar (1993, 1994) advances a theory of human flourishing alongside a diagnosis of the ills of modernity. Neo-Aristotelian authors such as Sen and Nussbaum have developed political philosophies that place human capabilities at the centre of the stage. In feminist studies, Lawson (2009) advocated ‘minimal humanism’ and in sociology Archer (2000), Sayer (2011) and Smith (2010) have taken stock of the absence of human subjects from social scientific accounts and sketched the contours of a humanist social science.

Rehumanising society and the social sciences?

The purpose of this conference is to explore how critical realism (CR) can contribute to rehumanising both society, and the social sciences. We welcome contributions from all areas of the humanities and social sciences. Equally welcome are contributions inspired by the various voices of CR, both within Bhaskar’s philosophy (critical naturalism, dialectical critical realism, metaReality) and by the various authors who contributed to CR’s flourishing.

Full details are available on: https://www.eventsforce.net/cbs/156/home

The organising team is Ismael Al-Amoudi, Tim Edwards & Joe O’Mahoney.

Please circulate this call to your Networks.

The International Conference for Critical Realism will be held in Cardiff on 20-22 July 2016. It will be preceded by an optional pre-conference workshop on 18-19 July.This year’s theme is de/humanisation. We welcome contributions from all areas of the humanities and the social sciences. A number of grants will be available for PhD students.
Registration and abstracts’ submission (250-500 words, deadline 31 Jan 2016) is now open.

Full details are available on: https://www.eventsforce.net/cbs/156/home

Please circulate this call to your networks. Apologies for cross-posting.

The organising team (Ismael Al-Amoudi, Tim Edwards & Joe O’Mahoney)

The Amazon page just went live for this book I’m editing with Tom Brock and Graham Scambler. As well as the titular selected papers, it will include an interview with Archer, an annotated bibliography, a foreword by Doug Porpora and an extended introduction to her work.

This edited collection of papers seeks to celebrate the scope and accomplishment of Margaret Archer’s work, distilling her theoretical and empirical contributions into four sections, capturing the essence and trajectory of her work over almost four decades. Long fascinated with the problem of structure and agency, Archer’s work has constituted a decades long engagement with this perennial issue of social thought. Through an initial empirical study and two expansive trilogies, Archer has developed an explanatory framework that comes to grips with the complexity of social processes at different levels of analysis over time. The Morphogenetic Approach and, later, her work on the Internal Conversation, together, provide a detailed account of the interrelated processes by which structure, agency and culture come to take the forms they do. However in spite of the deep interconnections which unify her body of work, it is rarely treated as a coherent whole. Though its range and depth has been widely acknowledged, it nonetheless has an unclear place within the cannon of sociological theory. The proposed collection seeks to address this relative neglect through collating a selection of papers, spanning Archer’s career, which collectively elucidate both the development of her thought and the value which can be found in it as a systematic whole. It seeks to illustrate the empirical origins of her later ideas in her early work on the sociology of education, as well as foregrounding the diverse range of influences which have conditioned her intellectual trajectory: the systems theory of Walter Buckley, the functionalist Marxism of David Lockwood, the critical realist philosophy of Roy Bhaskar and, more recently, her engagement with American pragmatism and the Italian school of relational sociology.

www.amazon.co.uk/Structure-Culture-Agency-Selected-Margaret/dp/1138932949/

Call for Papers (http://www.maneyonline.com/pb/assets/raw/PRT/REA_special_issue_gender.pdf)

Critical Realism, Gender and Feminism
Special Issue of the Journal of Critical Realism (15:5, 2016)
Edited by Angela Martínez Dy, Lena Gunnarsson and Michiel van Ingen
Email: lena.gunnarsson@oru.se<mailto:lena.gunnarsson@oru.se>

An increasing number of gender scholars have become familiar with critical realism, finding it a robust alternative to the poststructuralist perspectives that currently dominate gender studies and feminism. This trend has coincided with an increased interest among feminist theorists in the issues of ontology, materiality and nature, which have always been at the heart of critical realist interventions. However, despite these thematic alignments, and despite the fact that both critical realism and feminist theory are inherently critical-emancipatory, the critical realist approach continues to occupy a marginal role within both feminist and gender studies debates. Concurrently, the field of critical realism is decidedly ‘masculine’ in nature, both in the sense that men dominate the field, and in terms of the issues with which critical realists have most commonly concerned themselves. Recent critical realist feminist work, the International Association of Critical Realism’s adoption of a proactive policy to enhance the representation of women in its organs and activities, and the growing critical realist preoccupation (particularly in Bhaskar’s philosophy of metaReality) with historically ‘feminine’ topics such as love, mark a potential shift away from these unfortunate trends.
In order to encourage the development of this emerging field of critical realist feminism and gender studies, as well as critical exchanges between the respective branches of critical realism (including dialectical critical realism and metaRealism) and feminist theory/gender studies, we are happy to invite submissions for a special issue of Journal of Critical Realism on Critical Realism, Gender and Feminism. We welcome not only contributions that draw on critical realism in studying gender relations and/or engaging with feminist concerns but also critiques of critical realism from feminist or gender-based points of view.
Topics of interest include, but are by no means limited to, the following:

•      Critical realism and poststructuralist feminism/gender studies

•      Critical realism and socialist/eco/radical/black/postcolonial feminism

•      Critical realism and the ontological/materialist/naturalistic turn in feminist theory

•      Critical realism and intersectionality

•      Critical realism, metaRealism, love and gender

•      Critiques/auto-critiques of existing critical realist work from a feminist/gender studies perspective

•      Feminist epistemology, standpoint theory and critical realism

•      Critical realism and feminist critiques of (social) science

•      Examinations/critiques of feminist taboos on realism, nature and causality

•      Critical realism and post-feminist culture

•      Critical realism, dialectics and feminist deconstruction

•      Revitalizing the explanatory feminist tradition: what is patriarchy?

•      Critical realism and sexuality

•      Critical realism and queer studies

•      Critical realism and men/masculinity studies

•      Critical realism, sex and gender identity

•      Critical realism and gendered/sexual violence

•      Critical realism, feminism, gender studies and war/conflict

•      Critical realism and feminist ethics

•      Critical realism and pornography

•      Critical realism and feminist methods/methodology

•      Agency, gender and critical realism

•      Critical realism and feminist activism/politics

•      Feminism, gender studies, critical realism and other realisms (Barad’s agential realism, post-positivist realism etc.)

•      Critical realism as underlabourer for applied work in feminism/gender studies

•      Critical realism, interdisciplinarity, gender and feminism

•      Feminist spirituality and metaRealism

•      Critical realism and feminist economics

Instructions for authors
Papers should be no more than 8,000 words (not inclusive of references). In all other respects, our instructions for authors apply. Please consult these at www.maneyonline.com/ifa/rea<http://www.maneyonline.com/ifa/rea> or use one of our recently published articles as a guide in setting out your work. Articles (as distinct from pieces for our Perspective and Debate sections) will be subject to external peer review.
Submissions need not be exclusively concerned with critical realism or its critique, but should relate their arguments in some significant way to critical realism. For instance, the main focus of an article could be Karen Barad’s feminist appropriation of Bohr’s agential realism, but it should include consideration of critical realism.

Important dates
October 1, 2015: deadline for first drafts
February 26, 2016: reviewers’ reports and editors’ decision provided
May 23, 2016: deadline for final drafts
June 30, 2016: final copy due with the publisher
October 2016: publication of the special issue online and print

Enquiries and submissions
Please send any enquiries to lena.gunnarsson@oru.se<mailto:lena.gunnarsson@oru.se> Please upload articles for peer review to our online system, http://www.editorialmanager.com/rea/default.asp. When uploading you will be asked if your paper is for a themed issue. Please answer ‘Yes, the special issue on Critical Realism, Gender and Feminism’. If your paper is accepted but not included in the special issue, it will appear in a subsequent issue. Please send any other material for the special issue to lena.gunnarsson@oru.se<mailto:lena.gunnarsson@oru.se>.

About the Journal
Journal of Critical Realism is the journal of the International Association for Critical Realism (IACR), established in 1997 to foster the discussion, propagation and development of critical realist approaches to understanding and changing the world. It provides a forum for scholars wishing to promote realist emancipatory philosophy, social theory and science on an interdisciplinary and international b

The suggestion that research methods have a double social life seems uncontentious to me. The claims being made are that (1) methods are shaped by the social contexts in which they emerge and (2) methods in turn help shape those contexts. So research methods should not be understood as neutral tools developed in isolation from the social world they are orientated towards. Instead, we need to recognise the manner in which methods are shaped by that world and in turn contribute to its shaping. This involves rejecting what Law, Savage and Ruppert describe as the ‘methodological complex’:

It assumes that methods are tools for learning about the social world. That this is what they are. End of story. We see this in methods courses. Juxtaposed and differentiated both from theory, and from substantive courses, these tell us about techniques for knowing the world. Which to choose. How to use them. How to analyse data. And how to present it.

There’s nothing wrong with this in certain senses: in social research indeed we need methods, and it’s not a bad idea to use those methods properly. But to think of methods in this way – simply as appropriate tools – involves consequences, some of them unanticipated, which create a baggage which can be heavy, even burdensome. We can distil this as ‘the methodological complex.’

http://research.gold.ac.uk/7987/1/The%20Double%20Social%20Life%20of%20Methods%20CRESC%20Working%20Paper%2095.pdf

This ‘methodological complex’ entails a particular division of labour for empirical research and a particular conception of how research can be undertaken. Theory, methods and substance are construed as distinct spheres of activity. Research questions are derived from theory, inviting the use of methods to address them in relation to distinct areas of substance. They also argue that this involves the ontological presupposition of a stable world, with definitive features that can be reported and turned into data:

We’re distinguishing between the world on the one hand, and representations of that world on the other. In this way of thinking it’s methods that bridge the gap. If we get those methods right then our representations will match the realities of the world. Tools have a better or worse capacity to do the job at hand. They  will, as the philosophers of science say correspond to it; or at least (this is what the  pragmatists say) they will describe it sufficiently well to be treated as accurate. This means that they are tools for handling the world. If we get them wrong then our accounts of reality, our data, will be flawed.

http://research.gold.ac.uk/7987/1/The%20Double%20Social%20Life%20of%20Methods%20CRESC%20Working%20Paper%2095.pdf

I’m hostile to any attempt to refute naturalism on this basis, arising from the obviousness with which these points can be reconciled to a critical naturalism (see Roy Bhaskar’s Possibility of Naturalism). But I think it’s important to explore them because the analysis seems entirely plausible to me, even if I’m sceptical about the prescriptions many would draw on the basis of them. I also agree that, as the authors put it, “oscillates between an objectivist concern with ‘bias’ and a humanist response which seeks refuge in an ‘ineffable’ human moment which somehow lies outside this purview of representational methods”. Roy Bhaskar makes a similar point when he argues that positivism and hermeneutics share a view of natural science, framing reality in terms of a schism between matter and meanings with the former being the domain of the natural sciences and the latter the domain of the (hermeneutical) social sciences. In fact I find their analysis congruent with Bhaskar’s, complementing it productively as a result of a sightly different focus:

By reducing issues to questions of technique, it allows different parties to come together around some kind of shared project, whatever their goals,values, orientations and identities. If we need to create random samples, then this is because it is important to avoid undistorted samples. If it is dangerous to avoid recruiting so-called professional participants to our focus groups, then this is because we’re looking for people who are naïve and untutored in appropriate ways. If the ethnographer needs to avoid the outsiders who flock to talk with her when she first arrives in the field, then this is because she’s on the lookout for gatekeepers or people at the core of the community rather than people with grudges on the periphery. We learn all these things in a million different versions in the hope of reducing bias; in the hope of knowing and describing the world accurately. This search to avoid bias and to use our ‘tools’ more effectively is pervasive, indeed ubiquitous. We share it. But it then also leads to an automatic response, from even the most positivistic researcher, about ‘what is left out’ by any specific method.

http://research.gold.ac.uk/7987/1/The%20Double%20Social%20Life%20of%20Methods%20CRESC%20Working%20Paper%2095.pdf

Their point is not that a concern to use tools effectively is wrong but rather that an exhaustive treatment of methods in these terms serves to preclude consideration of others aspects of methods that are salient to the practice of social research. Their project seeks to recognise that “methods are fully of the social world that they research; that they are fully imbued with theoretical renderings of the social world” and to think through the implications of this for how we understand them. These are the questions that we lose sight of if we focus on using tools effectively. As I understand their point, they accept that tools are used in the production of knowledge but argue that to understand these ‘tools’ we need to stop and consider them as objects in their own right. Their point is not a trivial constructionist one, such as to assert that ‘methods are socially constructed’ (well of course they are, would anyone argue that methods are natural kinds?) because to do so would enact precisely the oscillation between objectivism (there is a world out there with fixed properties which we use neutral methods to investigate with a greater or lesser degree of efficacy) and subjectivism (there are first-person human realities which are intrinsically beyond the purview of objective representation using neutral methods) – in critical realist jargon, I think they’re proposing a systematic framework for investigating the transitive dimension of social science.

I’m not sure what I’d write but I’d really like to contribute to this:

Critical Realism, Gender and Feminism

Special Issue of the Journal of Critical Realism (15:5, 2016)

Edited by Angela Martínez Dy, Lena Gunnarsson and Michiel van Ingen

Email: lena.gunnarsson@oru.se

An increasing number of gender scholars have become familiar with critical realism, finding it a robust alternative to the poststructuralist perspectives that currently dominate gender studies and feminism. This trend has coincided with an increased interest among feminist theorists in the issues of ontology, materiality and nature, which have always been at the heart of critical realist interventions. However, despite these thematic alignments, and despite the fact that both critical realism and feminist theory are inherently critical-emancipatory, the critical realist approach continues to occupy a marginal role within both feminist and gender studies debates. Concurrently, the field of critical realism is decidedly ‘masculine’ in nature, both in the sense that men dominate the field, and in terms of the issues with which critical realists have most commonly concerned themselves. Recent critical realist feminist work, the International Association of Critical Realism’s adoption of a proactive policy to enhance the representation of women in its organs and activities, and the growing critical realist preoccupation (particularly in Bhaskar’s philosophy of metaReality) with historically ‘feminine’ topics such as love, mark a potential shift away from these unfortunate trends.

In order to encourage the development of this emerging field of critical realist feminism and gender studies, as well as critical exchanges between the respective branches of critical realism (including dialectical critical realism and metaRealism) and feminist theory/gender studies, we are happy to invite submissions for a special issue ofJournal of Critical Realism on Critical Realism, Gender and Feminism. We welcome not only contributions that draw on critical realism in studying gender relations and/or engaging with feminist concerns but also critiques of critical realism from feminist or gender-based points of view.

Topics of interest include, but are by no means limited to, the following:

  • Critical realism and poststructuralist feminism/gender studies
  • Critical realism and socialist/eco/radical/black/postcolonial feminism
  • Critical realism and the ontological/materialist/naturalistic turn in feminist theory
  • Critical realism and intersectionality
  • Critical realism, metaRealism, love and gender
  • Critiques/auto-critiques of existing critical realist work from a feminist/gender studies perspective
  • Feminist epistemology, standpoint theory and critical realism
  • Critical realism and feminist critiques of (social) science
  • Examinations/critiques of feminist taboos on realism, nature and causality
  • Critical realism and post-feminist culture
  • Critical realism, dialectics and feminist deconstruction
  • Revitalizing the explanatory feminist tradition: what is patriarchy?
  • Critical realism and sexuality
  • Critical realism and queer studies
  • Critical realism and men/masculinity studies
  • Critical realism, sex and gender identity
  • Critical realism and gendered/sexual violence
  • Critical realism, feminism, gender studies and war/conflict
  • Critical realism and feminist ethics
  • Critical realism and pornography
  • Critical realism and feminist methods/methodology
  • Agency, gender and critical realism
  • Critical realism and feminist activism/politics
  • Feminism, gender studies, critical realism and other realisms (Barad’s agential realism, post-positivist realism etc.)
  • Critical realism as underlabourer for applied work in feminism/gender studies
  • Critical realism, interdisciplinarity, gender and feminism
  • Feminist spirituality and metaRealism
  • Critical realism and feminist economics

Instructions for authors

Papers should be no more than 8,000 words (not inclusive of references). In all other respects, our instructions for authors apply. Please consult these at www.maneyonline.com/ifa/rea or use one of our recently published articles as a guide in setting out your work. Articles (as distinct from pieces for our Perspective and Debate sections) will be subject to external peer review.

Submissions need not be exclusively concerned with critical realism or its critique, but should relate their arguments in some significant way to critical realism. For instance, the main focus of an article could be Karen Barad’s feminist appropriation of Bohr’s agential realism, but it should include consideration of critical realism.

Important dates

October 1, 2015: deadline for first drafts

February 26, 2016: reviewers’ reports and editors’ decision provided

May 23, 2016: deadline for final drafts

June 30, 2016: final copy due with the publisher

October 2016: publication of the special issue online and print

Enquiries and submissions

Please send any enquiries to lena.gunnarsson@oru.se Please upload articles for peer review to our online system, http://www.editorialmanager.com/rea/default.asp. When uploading you will be asked if your paper is for a themed issue. Please answer ‘Yes, the special issue on Critical Realism, Gender and Feminism’. If your paper is accepted but not included in the special issue, it will appear in a subsequent issue. Please send any other material for the special issue to lena.gunnarsson@oru.se.

About the Journal

Journal of Critical Realism is the journal of the International Association for Critical Realism (IACR), established in 1997 to foster the discussion, propagation and development of critical realist approaches to understanding and changing the world. It provides a forum for scholars wishing to promote realist emancipatory philosophy, social theory and science on an interdisciplinary and international basis, and for those who wish to engage with such an approach.

Prof. Margaret Archer will give a guest-talk at Cardiff University on
an oft-neglected aspect of critical realism. She will address how
groups and group relations are transformed in important respects in
the course of pursuing and introducing social transformations. Her
talk draws empirical illustrations from the contestation of
intellectual property in Late Modernity.

The event is open to established researchers and doctoral candidates
in relevant disciplines. Please register through the link below.

Speaker: Prof. Margaret S. Archer.

Title: How Agency is transformed in the course of Social
Transformations: Don’t Forget the Double Morphogenesis.

Date: Tuesday 2nd December 2014 (2:30-4:30pm).

Venue: Lecture theatre E1.21, Sir Martin Evans Building, Museum Ave.
Cardiff CF10 3AX.

Organisers: Dr Ismael Al-Amoudi, Dr Tim Edwards, Prof. Rick Delbridge.

Registration link and additional info: https://www.eventsforce.net/cbs/105/home