From pg 67 of his Wasted Lives:

With the passage of time, successive layers of emergent realities come into view, each calling for a deeper and more comprehensive revision of received beliefs and our conceptual net than was required by the one before in order for it to be scanned and its significance revealed. We haven’t reached the bottom layer yet; even if we did, though, we wouldn’t be able to decide for sure that we had.

I recall other points where he writes like this. This is not liquidity, it’s lamination: successive layers of nested reality which we discover in an accelerating fashion. Liquidity is a feature of our experience, not of reality. Bauman ontologizes a phenomenological concept and then uses it to ground a thematic of modernity. Thoughts? This idea only just occurred to me but I suspect it would be an interesting critique to try and develop.

I’m just doing some late stage proof reading for the collection of Margaret Archer’s papers I’ve edited with Tom Brock and Graham Scambler. This passage from the revised introduction to the Social Origins of Educational Systems really jumped out to me, both because of the forcefulness with which it sets out her intellectual project and also the austere clarity which I really value about her writing style:

A social ontology explains nothing and does not attempt to do so; its task is to define and justify the terms and the form in which explanations can properly be cast. Similarly, the Morphogenetic Approach also explains nothing; it is an explanatory framework that has to be filled in by those using it as a toolkit with which to work on a specific issue, who then do purport to explain something. Substantive theories alone give accounts of how particular components of the social order originated and came to stand in given relationships to one another. The explanatory framework is intended to be a very practical toolkit, not a ‘sensitization device’ (as ‘structuration theory’ was eventually admitted to be); one that enables researchers to advance accounts of social change by specifying the ‘when’, ‘how’ and ‘where’ and avoiding the vagaries of assuming ‘anytime’, ‘anyhow’ and ‘anywhere’.

I really like this idea – see the full post here. I was always quite taken with the method for social ontology which Dave Elder-Vass elaborated for what I think were quite similar reasons. There’s far too much attention paid to theory and far too little attention paid to theorising.

Following this, Swedberg suggested that learning to theorise can only be done effectively through concrete exercises, and so he spoke about how he helps students to do so in the course he runs at Cornell. Beginning with the instruction to go and observe any social phenomenon, ideally one that they are not familiar with, Swedberg listed the steps he encourages his students to work through (with the stipulation that they must ‘construct theories to suit facts not facts to suit theories’):

  • Step 1: Observe; learn something about the topic before theorising
  • Step 2: Name the phenomenon
  • Step 3: Use and develop one/several concepts; develop a hybrid concept
  • Step 4: Push further – perhaps use a metaphor, an analogy, a typology, a classification; try to build in process
  • Step 5: Come up with an explanation, rather than a description only

This looks like it’ll be very interesting:

The International Origins of Social and Political Theory

What is the relationship between history and theory? Much of the time, theory is held to stand outside history. Theoretical systems are applied to, rather than drawn from, historical events. Structural functionalism in sociology, neorealism and neoliberalism in International Relations, and neo-classical economics work in this fashion. The promise of such ‘objective’ theorising is to construct schema that are abstracted from the minutiae of historical events and the agents who enact them.

This special issue of Political Power and Social Theory explores two commitments that stand in opposition to the view that theory inhabits a space distinct from history:

·       First, theory and theorists arise historically. History is an ‘archive’ of events and experiences that leads to theorising, often by practitioners caught up in those very events. Marx was a revolutionary, Clausewitz a soldier, and Freud an analyst. Rather than abstract theory from history, this special issue sees theory as necessarily constituted in and through history.

·      Second, international encounters are productive of theorizing: the discovery of the Americas helped to generate the idea of the ‘state of nature’; transnational practices of commercial capitalism fuelled Adam Smith’s theories of free trade; and Hegel’s dialectic of master and slave could not have been written without the Haitian revolution. Theory and theorists are always located somewhere – and that somewhere is history.

This special issue invites submissions on the various international encounters that have generated social and political theorizing. Although we welcome submissions in the fields of history of ideas/intellectual history, we are particularly interested in how historical events, experiences and practices have shaped theoretical developments.

Those interested in contributing to this special issue should send an abstract (maximum 200 words) to Tarak Barkawi ( and George Lawson ( by 1st July 2015.

We will host a workshop at LSE in Spring 2016 in which papers will be discussed. Those papers selected for the special issue will be sent for review in early Summer 2016. Final submissions will be made to Political Power and Social Theory in September 2016. Publication of the special issue will take place in early 2017.

The Social Theory Research Cluster invites paper proposals for its first Symposium for Early Career Theorists. SECT is a special one-day group of sessions at the Canadian Sociological Association that spotlights the work of emerging social theorists at a relatively early stage in their careers (PhD Candidates who are ABD status and those who are no more than five years beyond completion of their doctorate).

Social theory is an open and dynamic field, and so in that spirit we seek papers that reflect, expand and/or critique the array of social phenomena that can be theorized. The Social Theory Research Cluster aspires to make SECT a flagship for social theory in Canada, and aims to renew and consolidate the place of theorizing in the Canadian sociological imagination. All proposals will be given serious attention, with session themes and topics reflecting the scope of submissions rather than vice versa. Papers will be circulated in advance to facilitate dialogue, and senior scholars will act as discussants.

We welcome extended abstract submissions of 600-800 words. Abstracts can be submitted online here:

Abstracts will be accepted until 11:55 pm on February 2, 2015 (Eastern Time). Complete papers will be due no later than April 30, 2015 to ensure that discussants have adequate time to prepare. The Canadian Sociological Association (CSA) annual meeting will be held in conjunction with the Canadian Federation of Humanities and Social Sciences Congress 2015 at the University of Ottawa, in Ottawa, Ontario Canada’s capital city, from June 1 – 5, 2015.

Social Theory Research Cluster
Canadian Sociological Association

Organized by Dr. Ariane Hanemaayer ( & Dr. Mervyn Horgan (

Is American sociology much more openly hierarchical than UK sociology? Or am I just reading too much into the name? Either way, it looks good, even if I dislike the title and concept slightly:


We invite submissions for extended abstracts for the 9th Junior Theorists Symposium (JTS), to be held in Chicago, IL on August 21st, 2015, the day before the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA). The JTS is a one-day conference featuring the work of up-and-coming theorists, sponsored in part by the Theory Section of the ASA. Since 2005, the conference has brought together early career-stage sociologists who engage in theoretical work.

We are pleased to announce that Patricia Hill Collins (University of Maryland), Gary Alan Fine (Northwestern University), and George Steinmetz (University of Michigan) will serve as discussants for this year’s symposium.

In addition, we are pleased to announce an after-panel on “abstraction” featuring Kieran Healy (Duke), Virag Molnar (The New School), Andrew Perrin (UNC-Chapel Hill), and Kristen Schilt (University of Chicago). The panel will examine theory-making as a process of abstraction, focusing on the particular challenge of reconciling abstract “theory” with the concrete complexities of human embodiment and the specificity of historical events.

We invite all ABD graduate students, postdocs, and assistant professors who received their PhDs from 2011 onwards to submit a three-page précis (800-1000 words). The précis should include the key theoretical contribution of the paper and a general outline of the argument. Be sure also to include (i) a paper title, (ii) author’s name, title and contact information, and (iii) three or more descriptive keywords. As in previous years, in order to encourage a wide range of submissions we do not have a pre-specified theme for the conference. Instead, papers will be grouped into sessions based on emergent themes and discussants’ areas of interest and expertise.

Please send submissions to the organizers, Hillary Angelo (New York University) and Ellis Monk (University of Chicago), with the phrase “JTS submission” in the subject line. The deadline is February 13, 2014. We will extend up to 12 invitations to present by March 13. Please plan to share a full paper by July 27, 2015.


At IACR earlier today I heard two interesting talks about Realist Evaluation. I had previously had a vague idea about what this involved, largely through encountering citations from Pawson in other texts, without ever having really grasped what it was in a concrete sense. Now I have, I’m very interested. All the more so because of the number of people who have told me today about the excitement that realist evaluation has generated in environments that one would have expected to be utterly hostile to critical realism more broadly. So there’s an interesting question about how realist evaluation has proved so amenable to circulation outside of its initial domain. Certainly, some of this must be a matter of networks, in terms of the original generation of those advocating this approach and the patterns of work stemming from their own engagements. I imagine it’s also a matter of analytical value – I was particularly interested to hear how realist evaluation appears to those from an applied background working within a positivistic intellectual culture. It sounds like the conceptual distinctions it draws are crucial – realist evaluation critiques what positivist empiricism does but also explains how its own function corrects these mistakes by going deeper into the case.

However the aspect that interested me most were the questions about intellectual self-presentation. Firstly, in terms of the limitations upon the acceptability of realist evaluation that some people encounter e.g. the approach is becoming fashionable but the results may still be somewhat alien on an intellectual level to funders. Secondly, in terms of what strikes me as the terminological minimalism which characterises the approach and its proponents. Take this extract about mechanism in a paper i just found by Pawson and Tilley:

The concept is best grasped through an illustration. The ‘primary school breakfast club’ is a very popular measure used to boost early education performance, often included within community regeneration initiatives. The key point here is that ‘the measure’ is not the basic unit of analysis for understanding causation. A measure may work in different ways or, in realist parlance, they may trigger different mechanisms (M1, … , Mn). A breakfast club may aid classroom attentiveness by offering the kids a ‘nutritious kick-start’ (M1) to the day, which they might not otherwise get. And/or it may act as a ‘summoning point’ (M2) to prevent kids loitering or absconding or misbehaving in the chaotic period before school. And/or it may act as an ‘energy diffuser’ (M3) to soak up gossip and boisterousness before formalities commence.

And/or it may enable to school to present a more ‘informal face’ (M4) to those uninspired by classroom and book learning. And/or it may act as a ‘pre-assembly’ (M5) enabling teachers to troubleshoot potential problems and seed the day’s schedules. And/or it might give parents and school staff an ‘informal conduit’ (M6) to mix and offer mutual support. Mechanisms also explain a programme’s failure, of course, so to this list we might add some adverse processes. It may act as an  opportunity for ‘messing about’ (M7) if only ancillary staff are on duty; it might provide an unintended ‘den of iniquity’ (M8) for planning the day’s misdeeds: or it might prove a ‘cultural barrier’ (M9) because inappropriate food is served, and so on.

I’ve long thought that mechanism is a powerful concept. In fact encountering the notion of a generative mechanism, in virtue of the operation of which events unfold in the way that they do, played a crucial role in winning me over to critical realism in spite of my initial scepticism. Even the more instrumental conception of mechanism found in analytical sociology appeals to me because once you start to think in terms of mechanisms, it’s hard to understand how anyone could be satisfied by a form of social inquiry entirely absent of them, even if you may disagree with the way in which other people conceptualise them.

But it can also be a hard concept to explain to those who don’t think in these terms. They are also often not written about clearly and, in spite of what I’m suggesting is their analytical pay off, I can understand why this is the case. In my own work I’ve tended to use ‘mechanism’ as a vague concept I employ in my provisional analysis but then articulate in other terms at the point of writing. The reason for this is partly because I don’t have the confidence that I can write clearly in terms of mechanisms while also being accurate. Or sometimes, if I’m honest, it’s because what I’m bestowing the ‘mechanism’ title to actually just reflects a causal hunch. Or my own thinking is much vaguer than I would like it to be.

It’s in terms of this experience that I find the clarity of Pawson and Tilley’s writing about mechanisms so striking. What I see as problematic, using it to designate the fact that I think I’ve identified operative causal power of some form, seems utterly fine when I encounter it in their writing. I find it problematic in my own because of the vast meta-theoretical edifice in virtue of which the concept is meaningful to me. But perhaps this is a feature of my own intellectual biography rather than anything that should exercise normative power in relation to my own writing? Could this be a more general mistake i.e. assuming that the theoretical considerations that led you to come to have accepted a concept should figure into your applications of that concept?

I look forward to reading more of Pawson and Tilley’s writing and I’m interested to develop my understanding of the style they write in. The small amount I’ve looked through in the last hour or so certainly fits with the effusive complements I heard about their style during the conference today. I’m also intuitively of the opinion that this style is, in a very particular way, part of the reason for the success their work has enjoyed. I’m not making the rather trite claim that ‘theory would be more popular if theorists wrote more clearly’. I’m suggesting there’s something very specific about their particular kind of clarity which lends to their work a wider popularity than would otherwise be the case.

My suggestion is that it uses the minimum of terminology necessary to convey the conceptual distinctions which have practical implications. It’s stylistic parsimony. Or at least it tends towards this. Are there many other theorists this is true of? I’m not convinced that there are. I’d like to be one of them though.

Theorizing Roles and Collective Intentionality: Contemporary Perspectives
Monday 5 May 2014, 1-5pm
Seminar Room 3, Chrystal MacMillan Building
15a George Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9LD
Overview: Despite the arguments of committed critics, notions of roles and collective intentionality have persisted in social science and philosophy. They provide ways of conceptualizing aspects of our sociality and tools to critique individualistic approaches to the social world. This symposium brings together speakers who are engaging with contemporary debates about roles and collective intentionality. The aim is to provoke debate about these concepts, and to push forward their theorization whilst considering serious challenges to them.
1.00-1.10pm    Introduction
1.10-2.10pm    Social Roles and Tasks, Professor Raimo Tuomela (University of Helsinki)
2.15-3.00pm    What Ever Happened to ‘Sex Roles’? Sex, Gender and the Concept of Role, Dr Mary Holmes   (Edinburgh University)
3.00-3.30pm    Tea, Coffee and Biscuits
3.30-4.00pm    Social Roles and Moral Law, Professor James Swindler (Illinois State University)
4.00-4.30pm    Roles and Implicit Consensus, Dr Stephen Kemp (Edinburgh University)
4.30-5.00pm     Panel: all speakers in discussion with each other and the audience
Organized by Professor James Swindler, Illinois State University ( and Dr Stephen Kemp, Edinburgh University ( with support from the School of Social and Political Science and the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at Edinburgh University, and the BSA Theory Study Group.

This looks fascinating, shame it’s so far away from me:

International conference

Moments of rupture: Event and negativity in modern thought

October 29 & 30, 2014
Universidad Diego Portales, Santiago de Chile
Keynote speakers:
Andreas Kalyvas (The New School, USA)
Eduardo Sabrovsky (Universidad Diego Portales, Chile)

Rupture is a motif central to modernity. A certain “culture of rupture” has animated in various forms the development of modern political and social thought, from the speculative philosophy of Hegel to the deconstruction of Derrida. The word “rupture” suggests a break in the status quo, an unexpected and irreversible event which interrupts the continuity of established institutions and practices, a singular occurrence which shatters the apparent consistency of the symbolic and normative order. Moments of rupture inspire hopes of a new beginning and emancipation but also instill fears of disorder and destruction.

The recent scenes of economic crisis, social discontent and political revolt have forcefully brought the topic of rupture to the fore. In the contemporary thinking about this topic, a peculiar opposition can be observed. While, in some forms of political philosophy, moments of rupture are celebrated as radical, extraordinary, genuinely political events, in the social sciences rupture tends to be seen as a common element of everyday disputes and struggles.

We invite proposals for presentations in English or Spanish that explore the notion of rupture from a philosophical, political, or sociological perspective. Possible topics include:

– The semantics of the concept of rupture

– The notions of event and the extraordinary

– The relation between rupture/event and negativity

– The problems of narrating and representing rupture

– Foundation, revolution and constituent power

– The significance of moments of rupture for the philosophy of history and political time

– Crisis and conflict

– Secular miracles and political theology

We welcome submissions both of complete papers and of extended abstracts of around 500 words. They should be prepared for blind review and sent The deadline for submissions is June 27. Notices of acceptance will be sent by July 22.

The conference is hosted by the Instituto de Humanidades and the Facultad de Ciencias Sociales e Historia of the Universidad Diego Portales. For additional information, please contact the organizers, Rodrigo Cordero and Wolfhart Totschnig, at the email address above.

Support: FONDECYT Initiation Project No. 11121346



The Centre for the Study of Women and Gender, University of Warwick

Friday 28th February 28th, 2014, 2.00pm  – 4.00pm

Social Sciences Building, Room A0.23


  • ·         Prof. Clare Hemmings (LSE)
  • ·         Dr. Carolyn Pedwell (Newcastle)
  • ·         Dr. Rebecca Coleman (Goldsmiths)
  • ·         Prof. Valerie Hey (Sussex)
  • ·         Prof. Lisa Blackman (Goldsmiths)

(More speakers may be announced – please check the event website for the most recent list:


Dr. Maria do Mar Pereira and Kathryn Medien (University of Warwick)

This workshop seeks to interrogate the nature and impacts of claims that feminist scholarship is, or ought to be, undergoing a ‘turn’, i.e. a change in direction, aim or focus. The notion of ‘turn’ has long played an important role in oral and written narrations of the development of social and political theory. In those narrations, the declaration of a ‘turn’ functions not just as a categorising device making it possible to identify patterns and pinpoint transformations in knowledge production, but also as a touchstone of sometimes fierce debates about the relative epistemic value and political utility of different forms of scholarship.

In recent years, it appears that invocations of, and exhortations to, a ‘turn’ have become especially frequent in feminist scholarship, particularly within conversations about theoretical and empirical work often clustered around the terms ‘the affective turn’ and ‘the (new) materialist turn’. These ‘turns’ have been the object of much attention in conferences and publications, but this workshop invites colleagues to think about them differently.

  • ·         Rather than evaluating the key principles, theoretical merits and analytical potential of such feminist ‘turns’, we want to discuss what happens when we think and speak of these (and other) scholarly developments as a ‘turn’, and how they come to be positioned and function within feminist scholarship.
  • ·         Rather than just conceptualise ‘turns’ as epistemic processes (where what is at stake is theories, concepts and findings), we also want to situate the declaration of ‘turns’ within the broader political economy of contemporary academic practice and ask, for example, how these declarations might relate to ongoing processes of transformation and competitive commodification of academic knowledge.

This event will take the format of an open roundtable discussion where speakers and participants will debate the current political-theoretical feminist landscape, asking how feminist ‘turns’ operate within and against a changing academic environment, at a time of political and economic ‘crisis’ and strengthening of social inequalities. We will consider questions of institutionalisation, temporality, the stories we tell about feminist scholarship, geo-politics, feminist pedagogies, citational practices and the relation between feminism and the political economy of contemporary academia.

We hope you can take part in the debate and then join us for the post-workshop drinks reception!

Attendance is FREE, but we ask that you REGISTER IN ADVANCE by clicking here:

Useful Information

(The Social Sciences building is marked with the number 60, and appears at the centre of the map, within square 4D.)

Brendan Halpin just linked to this on my last post. It’s my new favourite xkcd:

Sociology seems to produce a number of co-existing and mutually exclusive (semi) paradigms which continually split and re-form in different combinations. Those who are committed to the idea of the necessity of a ‘theoretical core’ frequently argue that such a situation represents a moment of synthesis, a moment that requires the development of a unified frame of reference representing structure and agency as presuppositional categories (as argued, for example, by Parsons,Alexander, Habermas, Giddens,Archer, Scott, etc.). The fact that an accepted synthesis never comes and that each new attempt gives rise to further critique suggests that ‘synthesis’ is one of the moves that gives rise to new splits and forms and is not, therefore, a resolution

SA: Early Career Theorists’ Symposium

6th June, 2014, held at the London School of Economics

Call for Abstracts

The Early Career Theorists’ Symposium is a special one-day symposium for up-and-coming theorists, organized on behalf of the British Sociological Association’s Theory Study Group. This symposium aims to bring together sociologists at a relatively early stage in their career who work on theory or are engaged in original theoretical work as part of their on-going research. We invite early-career sociologists, across all research areas, to submit abstracts. Submissions from advanced PhD students are also welcome.

Prof. Claire Alexander (Manchester), Prof. Patrick Baert (Cambridge), and Dr Fran Tonkiss (LSE)—covering theorisations of Race & Ethnicity, Philosophy of the Social Sciences and the Sociology of Intellectuals, and Urban and Spatial Theory and Economies, respectively—will comment on the papers. Complete information for submitting the abstract will consist of:

(1) name and contact information of the author (including career stage, e.g. PhD student, post-doc, early career academic);

(2) title of your presentation;

(3) a 500-word abstract of the presentation;

(4) five keywords descriptive of the presentation.

Please send submissions to the organizers: Dr Marcus Morgan, University of Cambridge ( and Dr Suzi Hall, London School of Economics ( The deadline for submission of abstracts is 6th January, 2014.

Please plan to share a full paper of no more than 5000 words by 28th April, 2014. Registration for the event is free.

Please do forward/share as appropriate.


BSA Annual Conference 2014: Changing Society  

Call for Papers 
Theory Stream Submissions
This stream welcomes abstracts on any aspect of theory as well as abstracts for the following Study Groups:

· Bourdieu
· Historical and Comparative Sociology
· Realism and Social Research
· Weber

The Realism and Social Research group would also like to invite abstracts under the theme “What is Realism for?”

The group is particularly interested in papers that consider any of the following issues:

  • The relevance of realist theory to substantive social, economic and political issues.
  • The practical implications of methodologically operationalising different forms of realist thought.
  • Those from other schools of thought who wish to engage critically in a dialogue with realist theory.

How to submit 
All abstracts and proposals for other events can be submitted online at:‐annual‐ conference/submissions.aspx

The deadline for submission of abstracts is 18th October 2013.   

For further information contact the Theory stream coordinators:
Gurminder K Bhambra E:
Tom Brock E:
Alternatively, contact the BSA Events Team E:

‘theory’ is what happens when common starting-points can no longer be taken for granted. For example, literary critics in the English-speaking world in the 1950s and 1960s disagreed about many things – about the authorship of certain Jacobean plays or about the influence of Keats on Tennyson or about whether D. H. Lawrence was a great writer – but for the most part they did not disagree about whether the evaluation of literary worth was legitimate or even possible, or indeed about whether there was such a category as ‘literature’. When all these concepts and procedures are defamiliarized, made to seem culturally contingent rather than logically necessary, debate has to move to a more theoretical or abstract level. But once again, this is not a form of pathology, not something that happens because there is nothing more to say about the established canon or because literary scholars have lost interest in literature (though some may have). It may, rather, be an index of health, or at least a sign that scholars cannot and should not be immune to the intellectual changes consequent upon living in a more diverse society in which the assumptions shared by certain traditional elites no longer command general assent

– What are Universities For? by Stefan Collini (1176)

Session Organizers
Frederic VANDENBERGHE, University State of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil,
Margaret ARCHER, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland,

Session in English

Half a century ago, we talked about the Proletariat, but without examining too closely the ontological status of collectives as distinct from collectivities: Does a collective exist? Is it just a name? Can it think as a group? Can it act, and if so, how? These questions remain and have re-surfaced in analytical philosophy and social theory. However, their conceptions are diverse and often represent incompatible ontologies of collectives and collective phenomena.

Recent theoretical developments in systems theory, network analysis, actor-network theory, critical realism, pragmatism, phenomenology and analytic philosophy allow for a reconsideration of the question of collective agency and re-conceptualisation of collective intentionality, collective subjectivity, collective reflexivity, plural subjects, intentional communities, coordination of action, etc. There is an upswing in ‘Relational Sociology’ but as it not always clear whether it is persons, groups, things or even relations that are related, this term covers the same spectrum of ontological differences. There are some ‘relationists’ who want to keep their ontology flat and others who endorse a stratified ontology of relationships and their emergent properties and powers. Papers are sought that address these central issues thematically.

At ISA 2014 –