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Rom Harré on Social Structure and Social Change : Social Reality and the Myth of Social Structure
Rom Harré European Journal of Social Theory 2002 5: 111 DOI: 10.1177/13684310222225333 The online version of this article can be found at:

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111–123. The difficulty for me is to get some clear idea of what macro-social structures might be that they could have causal powers. Only the latter have the necessary powers to generate social worlds as at Freie Universitat Berlin on November 17. and there are people. Only particulars can have such powers. in particular the micro-social order. 2012 . Consequently. Finally. There are roles and rules. OX F O R D . U S A / L I N AC R E C O L L E G E .021253 Downloaded from est. one should change whatever causes that order to be what it is. Selectionist models of change also draw our attention to rules.European Journal of Social Theory 5(1): 111–123 Copyright © 2002 Sage Publications: London. Key words s change s discursive s micro s reductons s structure Introduction I want to address the underlying problem of both social psychology and sociology: could social structures be causally efficacious? A positive answer to this question is taken by Roy Bhaskar (1989: Chapters 6 and 8) to be perfectly uncontroversial. CA and New Delhi SYMPOSIUM Rom Harré on Social Structure and Social Change Social Reality and the Myth of Social Structure Rom Harré G E O RG E TOW N U N I V E R S I T Y. Changing the social world can be achieved only by changing the rules and customs active people follow. Thousand Oaks. The critical realist crowd is inclined to say ‘yes’ to the big ontological question – could social structures be causally efficacious? But that is because they are not clear about what these causally efficacious Platonic beings might actually be! 1368-4310[200202]5:1. if one wants to change the social order.sagepub. there are obstacles to social change in ‘reductions’ – the minute social practices that shape actual social orders. Is it obvious that the referents of social structure expressions are particulars of the right sort? Not to me. U K Abstract The question of whether social structures are efficacious can be tackled by examining how they are produced.

Let us return to what Kant has to say on the subject. If it is a viable concept in the physical sciences we do not need to defend the generic concept before applying it to people. I’m not saying that there are no such things as social structures. At the end of the day I hope to show that such referents are not the kind of entities that could be causally efficacious. active relationships between charges. In this mode we are not ascribing causality to events. If we try to come to a judicious conclusion about the question it will not be a simple yes or no answer.sagepub. The question for an investigator would be what is the causal mechanism which is activated by the prior event and engenders the subsequent event. Kant (1788) is trying to persuade us that there are two transcendental realms involved in the concept of Downloaded from est. The first kind is ‘event causality’ where we take the causal relation to be between events as pairs of instances of certain event types. fields and their dispositions.8 metres per second in a vertical direction without giving it a shove. active agents. I want to take another direction by trying to establish the legitimacy. The question of the question itself is a critical at Freie Universitat Berlin on November 17. indeed the necessity of the notion in the physical sciences. There are two post-Humean conceptions of causality that seem to be at work in both everyday commonsense understandings of the world and at the sharp end of the physical sciences.1 This will not do for the whole story of causality. but to things and substances. a bit of nitpicking. in short does the question that the referents of social structure expressions could be causally efficacious make sense. I want to go through some fine-grain stuff to look quite carefully at all the bits and pieces that make up this supposition. My discussion will be focused on the unattended details of unaddressed assumptions. but they’re not the right kind of thing to do the sort of work that ‘some people’ would like them to do. Causality: Some Reminders We are all post-Humeans.112 European Journal of Social Theory 5(1) I do not think we can answer this question just like that. Here we have a familiar story of potentials. the idea of a continuously existing being. By and large. There is the question of the site of the efficacy. This is agent causality. I suppose. I simply remove the obstacle to the manifestation of power by the continuously active gravitational field. 2012 . agent causality has been defended by most philosophers recently in the context of personal activity – arguing that persons are the relevant. By removing the support I can provide the occasion for the gravitational field to display its powers to make a thing accelerate at 9. We need to provide an ontological link – for example. It displays its activity when various obstructions to action have been removed. that is whether it makes any sense at all. and the event of the onset of one of the many nasty diseases smokers contract. of causal power to bring about effects. continuously active which can bring about events without being stimulated in any way. what sort of process in what medium is going on between the sequence of events that make up a lifetime of smoking.

Refinements include whether the relations must all be internal. and we have an intuition of spontaneity. It is not part of the empirical ego. it is more complicated because it gets folded back on itself. of being able to act unconditionally. We would have to satisfy some pretty stringent criteria – such as the agent must be continuously potentially active and exercising its powers when obstructions are removed. a distinction between event causality and agent causality. However. the unity of consciousness. From the presentation of the general case for agent causation in terms of concepts that we use in the physical sciences. gravitational fields. There is the transcendental unity of apperception. 2012 . and we feel that reason has prevailed. They consist of elements which are related to one another. or are they causally efficacious in the agent mode? Then we would have to invoke criteria to identify which particular is the agent. I will simply project onto Kant’s distinction between the noumenal and phenomenal. the transcendental and the immanent. But before I turn to the specifics of the social version of structure. It is not that we have to guess about this – we do have a criterion. we can see that the next step is to ask how we would apply the concept of agent causation in the Bhaskarian case. and there is the transcendental ego. Are they causally efficacious in event mode. part definitive of the type of being which is to constitute the elements. That is what we need to investigate – the question of what it might be to declare that social structures are causally efficacious. there are also occasions (and Kant gives us the criterion for identifying them) when we cannot apply that schema. as magnets.Rom Harré Social Reality and the Myth of Social Structure personal efficacy. electric fields do. that which has the power to perform certain sorts of actions not having to be stimulated by any contingent condition. since there is no empirically discernible stimulus. There is then a manifestation in the flow of events of something which we could identify as a genuine agent. Kant did say that the noumenal is the realm of reason and the empirical is the realm of causality. A thing which disintegrates every time the wind blows is not a structure. where we are able to see the stimulus that will bring about a response. lots and lots of at Freie Universitat Berlin on November 17. This being is not observable. However. I must give an account of structures as entities having a certain character. in which case we would look for causal mechanisms. Social Construction The next thing I need to look at is the notion of social structure. I want to avoid getting stuck in the finer points of Kantian scholarship. As we exhaust all the possibilities of the conditional production of action. and the Kantian conception of the spontaneous activity of the person as transcendental ego. This is a fairly simple but strict criterion for what is to count as a structure. There are occasions in life. we have an empirical ground for postulating the non-empirical transcendental ego. Some of these relations must be invariant under transformation. that is.sagepub. we have the experience of spontaneity. As he says. Kantian criteria might be one way of doing it. The kind of structures we are concerned with in the debate between critical realists and social 113 Downloaded from est.

For instance the organization of the family at any given Christmas party may reflect internal relations partly definitive of the social status of the persons in question. It was a very different organization from the United States government where you can substitute presidents one after another. while the relationship between the president. A familiar example in micro-sociology. Of course. there are also the external relations in the family. They are the underlying generators of the structure. One must think of the elements of an institution as the roles. there are institutions. but rather the acts that are performed. I suppose most people would reckon that an institution was a social structure and to ask what it is that is constituent of the institution. First of all. for example the substitution of different people in roles. such a social construction might be a rugby game. The German Third Reich depended on one person. I have in mind the sort of case where the elements are neither people nor roles. There are other ontologies possible in the social domain. Some of these relations must be invariant under transformation. which will have to be invariant under transformation. Downloaded from est. provided that role continuity is established. There will be some sorts of institutions which are highly dependent upon the exact individual who happens to be in at Freie Universitat Berlin on November 17. The game consists of a whole sequence of acts. Where are the people in these examples? The people play the roles and thus they generate the structure. long live the King’ precisely reflect this principle. They are a necessary foundation on which the possibility of social structures depends. The people can be replaced. When you think that through a little bit further it becomes obvious that there are very few institutions the elements of which are just the people who currently happen to be there. An institution will not go out of existence when one of its members is replaced by another human being. and individuals are not all that tightly related to roles. and the relationships as a relational net that picks up the roles. ‘The King is dead. The people are like the magnetic poles we invoke to explain the pattern of iron filings through which the structure of the field is manifested. Who sits where round the dining table at Christmas. 2012 . Take Hitler away and there was not much left. The way modern rugby is played. the congress and the judiciary remains as adversarial now as it ever was. the family is an internally related structure because the categories of family membership are defined partly with respect to the relations in which they stand to one another.114 European Journal of Social Theory 5(1) constructionists are those in which the elements are related by internal relations. I want to make a distinction between two different sorts of continuing situations in which we might want to say that we have structures in the social science sense. For example. forwards can run and pass in much the same way as the backs.sagepub. and where they are sitting is a spatial relationship which is partly internally definitive of a category of person who is in that place. So the roles are naturally appropriately taken as the elements and there will be some relations between them. One might think that it is the people who are the elements. Granny always sits in a certain place and so on.

Gradually certain conventions came into being and hardened into rules. are secondary formations or products of the activity of people acting according to rules. as if they existed independently of the practices they ‘guided’. customs and conventions. I imagine it was pretty chaotic. roles are generated through custom. There is much merit in the use of such concepts as ‘rule’ and ‘convention’ but their treatment in social theory and research methodology must be tied in with Wittgenstein’s subtle treatment of normativity (Wittgenstein. such as starting to learn a foreign language or assembling a piece of knocked-down (flat-packed) at Freie Universitat Berlin on November 17. enacting and publicizing statutes. In the latter part of the New Testament – reported in the Acts of the Apostles – Peter. legislation and so on. Sixty or seventy men used to contend for a pig’s bladder in village contests in England before rugby was invented. Matthew and so on are generating the Christian Church as a series of acts and in these are living out certain roles. If you ask in the Christian context.Rom Harré Social Reality and the Myth of Social Structure People as Actors Articulating roles in a different way from the generating act. This is a key feature of the ambiguity that infects the very idea of social structure. a sociologist or psychologist might write down his/her intuition that the performance took 115 Downloaded from est. Social structures. Is it dynamic or is it static. be they roles or acts. the concept of ‘rule’ was reified into a quite unjustifiable systematic sense. Rules and Conventions as Social Reality We have to be very careful about what we say about rules. Rugby has passed from being a game to rugby as an institution. An even more misleading idea was to infer that if rules are not accessed consciously then they must be being accessed unconsciously. customs and conventions. 1953: 138–242). It might be ‘the Apostles’ – because to be an Apostle is to occupy or manifest a role. Acts are generated by people in orderly sequences of actions that constitute social structures of another kind. and all kinds of things. The rules and conventions have to be tidy enough to produce act-sequences as structures. In cases in which the people are acting in a regular and coordinated way. analytical movement in social psychology were trying to point to the way in which people acted in creating social institutions and carrying on their social life. And they are maintained in various ways – collective remembering. in which rules were given far too concrete a character. 2012 . This metaphor and others like it focused attention on some special cases.sagepub. Such a use of the concept of ‘rule’ cannot possibly be right. Those who started the anti-experimental. is the institution foreshadowed in the New Testament composed of the Apostles. or is it constituted of the Acts of the Apostles? We can take either away. There are all sorts of activities people engage in to create roles. They acted in a way that was fairly neatly described by talking about following rules and conventions. One could focus either on the roles or on the acts or on both. However.

and a mode of being as concrete instructions. people will be happier. In short. such as the direction in which the nuts should be tightened on the bolts. When social constructionists say that social acts are rule-guided or take account of conventions. and now the competent actor follows it. Garfinkel has remarked that no amount of following the written rules will ever allow one to accomplish the task completely. There are several possible cases here too. which are real as instances of discourse. In the instructions for assembling a garden chair. But most importantly in either case. and then. lo and behold. playing musical instruments and so on.116 European Journal of Social Theory 5(1) account. These examples illustrate the deep difference between norm guidance that works through explicit instructions and that which works through the immanence of ‘right ways’ in the practices of a community. nicer and richer. it might be suggested that one should perform these amazing feats on ‘the economic system’. We can now ask ‘Could either rules or institutions as products possibly be causally efficacious?’ The answer is plainly ‘No!’ The advice of J. there are just people and the products of their activities. many of which are discursive. Once upon a time there was an instruction. But sometimes one just copies what someone else does. 2012 . The thesis to which I have both moral and metaphysical objections is simply put. if this analysis of the joint roles of actors and the discourses they jointly create is adequate to the nature of the case. Acting according to a rule is quite different. and the rule. Operate on social structures. the person is the active agent. namely discursive acts. Following a rule is typified by the sort of thing one does when there is a written instruction. Acting according to a rule is typified by the sort of thing one does when driving cars. correctly. one reads the instruction and then does what it says. Social reality is exhausted by what people do. convention or custom at its most explicit just a means to the coordinated management of meanings. they may be referring to one or other of these paradigms. The rules by which they manage it must not be reified into a transcendent realm from which they exert their benign influence. that is in accord with some usually publicly acknowledged standard. the manual always omits a move which ‘everybody knows’. or using a computer. where the ‘rule’ written down in etiquette books is immanent in the practice. Downloaded from est. say in choosing which piece of cutlery to use at a ‘posh’ dinner. somehow. What reality do they have? Again we must distinguish a mode of being as immanent in practices. Austin (1969) to use humdrum examples to investigate such grand theses as the Critical Realists offer us is well taken. This might express two quite different psychological hypotheses.sagepub. Institutions and their Possible Efficacy Now. of norms by writing down a proposition expressing a rule. These are quite different procedures. It might suggest that the people were following a rule or it might suggest that people were acting in accordance with a at Freie Universitat Berlin on November 17. the only reality norms and rules have is of the same ontological status as the activities they ‘govern’. For example.L.

The causal efficacy of events is tied to the causal mechanisms they activate. What is the category of efficacious agent that brings them into being? Only persons. There is nothing to gain access to. In the analysis of causality above we saw that the concept of ‘cause’ gathers up both events and things. Now we have to ask whether any of the social things we have identified could possibly meet these conditions for ascriptions of causal efficacy. continually efficacious unless the activity is blocked. taking the constraints on what they are able to use to make sense of their situations as if these were somehow transcendent to those situations. and the various story-lines they use in talking about what they have done. are doing and might do in the future. balancing the books and so on. which somehow exists over and above the mundane activities of people engaged in buying and selling. But both rules and acts are discursive products. is not an event. There were roles. performing such discursive acts as setting up budgets. My moral objections follow directly from these metaphysical objections. It was her inability to tell her story according to the ‘right conventions’. brought about all those social interactions. I can understand what is meant by that pregnant phrase if it is a summary expression for the myriad discursive acts people actually do. No rule or convention is the kind of thing that could be an efficacious agent. It is easy to talk grandly of ‘the social system’ as if it. It is easy to postpone the hard task of transforming story-lines and making face-toface ameliorations to the real social world by moving to the realm of the transcendental. But the only efficacious being in the game is the person. But they are just story-lines. 2012 . But the thesis that there is something else in play I simply do not understand. though composed of events. How could that be proven? The Conditions for Ascriptions of Causal Efficacy Let us see whether any of the candidates now on the board can satisfy the conditions that would be necessary for something to be causally at Freie Universitat Berlin on November 17. 117 Downloaded from est. Garfinkel long ago showed how this commonplace phenomenon can take on the appearance of an inaccessible social order. Of course people can be trapped into story-lines. Quite plainly the causal ontology of events will not apply in the social case just because a social structure.Rom Harré Social Reality and the Myth of Social Structure whatever that might be. as something over and above the mess of actual social interactions. The anecdote made it abundantly clear that the client person did not know how to tell a story that fitted the story-line conventions of the welfare agency. a powerful particular. Both are the right sort of particular. Benton’s acquaintance’s misfortune was not lack of access. Ted Benton described the situation of an applicant for welfare who did not manage to achieve her just aims. something like the earth as a source of gravity or the north magnetic pole on this particular magnet. The alternative is to be causally efficacious as an agent.sagepub. rules and the acts that people jointly performed within the frames of possibility that they determined.

acting in accordance with it. or if they were Downloaded from est. Sameness of rule is inherited. and what counts as qualitatively the same rule? The two senses of ‘same’ seem to collapse into one in the case of rules. I’m a person and I’m going to follow a certain rule. There are a million ways in which the relationship between rules and people and their actions is weak. When you want to be bloody-minded and act in such and such a way. sneaking in. If one wants to explain some social phenomenon one might say that it was the rule or the convention that made one do it. whatever it is. This is because we can only judge that a rule is the same by comparisons between what people do in accordance with it. there would have to be another rule specifying the right conditions for applying the bloody-mindedness rule. and so on. is used to perform the same act. people have radical freedom. At some point you have to say: ‘This is how I go on’. then it would not be possible for the people involved to fabricate the rule.’ A number of philosophers. In relation to rules and the forms of life they constitute. What counts as the same rule on different occasions? What counts as numerically the same at Freie Universitat Berlin on November 17. 2012 . that is structured arrays of interconnected roles. We might make a similar point about the identity conditions for conventions. it seems. To try to make a final selection between them. Wittgenstein argued that one could not construct a psychology on the basis of an infinite regress of rules. That is the sort of person I am. to do something different in order to be bloody-minded. the rule for abandoning this rule. so that was where the source of causal efficacy in the social world is to be located. to abandon it. to refuse to follow it. If it were the case that the rules were the efficacious beings.118 European Journal of Social Theory 5(1) Criteria of Identity We need to take this discussion a step further to complete the analysis in a convincing way. for instance Charles Taylor (1977: Chapter 4). have argued more or less the same point. in the sense that the conforming action. And that in turn is inherited from some meaning of the action. let us look at the psychological processes which we might want to hypothesize in each case. If it were the case that a rule were to be cited as the causally efficacious particular in the production of either of these kinds of social structured sequences of social events. If there were infringements one would have to say that there was another rule. from sameness of human performance. Candidates for Powerful Particulars There seem to be only two candidates – people and rules – for the role of the causally efficacious particulars.sagepub. then many things that we can do would not be possible. or institutions. Can we dismiss rules and conventions as candidates for agency in a more fundamental way? Is a rule or convention something which has the right sort of characteristics to be a powerful particular? One way to carry the discussion further would be to ask about criteria of identity.

If one’s aim is really the transformation of society. Suppose that the argument offered so far is more or less right. This is the place for political action: on the rules. for the most part. generally these experiences cannot be achieved to order. The complications arise because of the difference between following the rules as instructions and those cases which Wittgenstein called acting according to a rule. and the game thereby changes. creating social structures in accordance with the rules and conventions that have come to them historically. and that has changed. they would involve a potentially infinite regress of rules. Change the rules. However. Let us take a model example. So what would we act upon to make things better? What would be the weak point in a society. the economic system. one might think ‘Oh well. So it is not going to be much good acting on the people. But do what to them? What could we conceivably do to anybody that would make human life better? The only possibility I can think of is the sort of thing that sometimes happens. the point of an application of the attempt at amelioration of the lives and fortunes of the citizens? Since social structures are products. It was changes in the rules and conventions of how the game is managed and played. because there is no such thing beyond a useful discursive category. I know what it is like to change the rules and so to change the institution and the activities it makes possible. It has changed a good deal over the last fifty years. The institution did not engender rugby games. It is no good talking about taking action on the social structure. the place to act is at that point where the people actually generate the roles and acts that are constitutive of institutions and other social realities. Nor was it changes to the structure of that institution that changed the game. they are not appropriate targets for ameliorative acts. In both cases sociologists. like St Paul’s conversion experience on the road to Damascus. not only in the scoring but also in the very nature of the game. let’s act on the people’. The players following the rules engender the new game like the old game. linguists and 119 Downloaded from est. by following the rules of social engagement or acting in accordance with them. at Freie Universitat Berlin on November 17. are immanent in social practices. nothing much of consequence follows. There are complications to be faced in taking the discursive turn. and unless they happen to the person who is the leader of the show. Amelioration of the Social World This is the preliminary part of the argument – now we turn to the substantive part: questions about social change. Let us turn to rugby. 2012 . creating social structures. If the people are the causally efficacious agents.Rom Harré Social Reality and the Myth of Social Structure possible. People are the effective agents who are creating the social world. All we have left now is people.sagepub. Rugby is an institution. What is left? One could act on the rules and conventions. I am just going to mention them in passing because I want to say a little bit more about the way all this works in practice. that the efficacious agents in the social world are people and they shape their world. There are all sorts of ways in which rugby is a different kind of social entity.

It is practices that survive or perish in social environments. There are those that come about through social processes such as I have just described.sagepub. The idea is that we should be able to understand social change by creating an analogue of selectionist explanations in biology. Selectionist Explanations Again The final thing I want to talk about is the currently revived selectionist theory of social change. New ways of doing things start by proposing new rules. One account of the rise of feminism thirty years ago is in the description of such a tension in terms of a political rhetoric. According to the theory. The idea then is that we look for sources of rule change. which suggests new rules and customs to be used to ‘make a new life’.120 European Journal of Social Theory 5(1) other tidy-minded persons set about writing down rules to express the regularity/orderliness that they have seen in the world. That is the kind of mistake that I and others made in the early days of this development. But a huge amount of social life is not carried on that way. new ways of doing things. Only if those rules were instructions. they must arise from mutant rules or customs. These tensions are expressed in a locally established rhetoric. then you can say that the explanation of the subsequent orderliness of life is that the people were following an instruction. Then there are the less effective means of change that are instituted by legislation. 2012 . so there has to be a way by which mutant rules and customs come about. The bottom Downloaded from est. along with the practices they support. generation by generation. Women experienced a disparity between their role in the economic order and how they were regarded in the expressive order. cognitive units of selectionist social explanations and used it in a very surprising way. 1976) terminology of memes. But in Susan Blackmore’s version memes are represented chemically in the brain and chemical things can happen to them. If there are any representations at all. Selectionist explanations require variation. thinking that writing down a representation of the regularity is a short-cut to an explanation of it. for the social versions of the Dawkins concepts of replicators (rules) and interactors (practices). We have to ask how mutant practices could arise. and on their fate depend the fates of the rules and customs that are involved in the way people engender such practices. One plausible suggestion is that there are tensions between people’s perception of their position in the economic order and their perceptions of their position in the expressive order of status and honour. The last thing those of us who have used the biological analogy had in mind was to identify the meme with some molecular goings on in the brain – it was not a chemical concept. It is more or less comprehended under the paradigm of according to the rule. But this is not the basis for a psychological hypothesis about how it was brought into being. Susan Blackmore (1999) has taken up Richard Dawkins’ (Dawkins. They could be candidates. they are to be found in written sets of at Freie Universitat Berlin on November 17. Expressed politically that led to ideas about new rules and customs for the management of relations between the sexes.

One appears in describing relations among 121 Downloaded from est. You can change the political status of India. so insignificant that it is far too small for parliaments and committees of peasants and workers to bother about. They distinguish visitors by their dress. After the debates of the last thirty to forty years there seem to be two wellestablished uses for the causal notion. I have been developing the concept of a reducton to describe the underlying basis of the way that revolutions are soon marked by a return to the regime that they purported to have overthrown. A reducton is how we shake hands. Summary and Conclusion So let me sum up this rather complicated and very provisional line I have been taking. changing the morphology of the institutions of education – that is just hot air – the way change does occur is through processes that focus on the minutiae of the rules and customs that go into the management of the social practice constitutive of each and every social order. yet at the post office. A reducton is a minute social practice. the defining reductons. to avoid the attention of the housedogs. so small. Dogs in India are very good at reducton management. the ordinary people will still step aside for a sahib.Rom Harré Social Reality and the Myth of Social Structure line of this argument is that if one is to provide a formula for bringing about social at Freie Universitat Berlin on November 17. If you go to visit somebody you should dress like a sahib and not like a peasant. who sits where at the table. With my colleague Ali Moghaddam at Georgetown (Moghaddam and Harré. 1997). and more intransigent to change. how we pass in the street and so on which seem to be the highly resistant bits of the social world that keep on keeping on. it is no good focusing on the mythic large-scale social structures to achieve it. such as the transformation of France from monarchy to republic. that so little happens as a result of the revolution. thereby reproducing the old regime. Nevertheless. It is a very striking feature of large-scale revolutions that overturn the apparatus of the state. 2012 . I claim that these exist only as discursive categories. In no time Napoleon takes on the characteristics of Louis XIV. I have been trying to identify what it is that bothers me about the enthusiastic and well-intentioned claim that social structures are causally efficacious and therefore if we want to ameliorate our lives we should change them. These minutiae maintain the social order. The focus of Critical Realists and other such well-meaning but metaphysically misguided people being on constituted authorities. How is it that large-scale changes like changing the constitution of India left everything pretty much the same? The common phrase for Nehru’s regime was ‘the brown sahibs’. I have been arguing for the importance of paying attention to the way in which one might change the rules because the rules are the source of new practices brought about by the only category of powerful particulars around.sagepub. economic systems and mythical things of that sort. It is no good talking about changing the social structure. you can change the rules by which that country was governed. namely people. One last point. there is something yet more minute than rules.

Mr McEnroe could not have thrown his racket on the ground and shouted four-letter words at the umpire – but he did. DC. But that turns out to be not quite right. How we would change reductons. What might a candidate social structure be: perhaps institutions? But institutions are the product of various kinds of rule-following. illustrating the difference between rules and customs and practices. even dominating. Let me tell you one reducton story to finish up with.sagepub. We have a Kantian way for recognizing the presence of such an agent. change these overt things which people could write down. ordinary. In time this became a reducton. There are all kinds of reasons. When I was little my mother was very firm about the rule that a man walked on the outside of the pavement and a lady on the inside. and the other in describing the capacities of agents. of whatever age. Critical realists. You look in the mirror and your sight is so bad you can’t see your wrinkles – it must have been a divine arrangement. change the customs. Whenever I tried walking any other way I was promptly switched to the ‘proper’ side. For event causality one must postulate causal mechanisms. walk on the inside. Marxists and others have taken for granted that social structures are just right for this role. Nearly everybody in England drives ten miles over the speed limit whatever it might be. Agent causality is equally important. How to improve the social world – change the rules. everyday reasons for thinking that rules are not that kind of thing. I hadn’t even realized I was living out a reducton until suddenly it was brought to my attention. I did my little switch. We live in a world of continuously active beings that bring about events when obstructions are removed. Note 1 You know the smoker’s proof in the existence of God – if you smoke it causes your skin to wrinkle. There is yet more that escapes the eye of legislators.122 European Journal of Social Theory 5(1) events. How do they do that? That is when rules and conventions come into the story. What could be the basic category of powerful particulars – what could something be that would have the necessary efficacy to follow rules. Downloaded from est. goodness only knows. and after crossing the road. role in the reproduction of society. So we have to ask – how is it that people act according to rule? People are not just passive vehicles for the activity of rules. with the institution to be seen as its role structure or as the acts that its members produce in fulfilling their at Freie Universitat Berlin on November 17. for the role of basic powerful particulars. Rules are not that kind of thing. We have to look at the social candidates for causal efficacy. There are all those little things that turn out to play an important. where the active agency is plainly to be ascribed to people. Once I was walking with a rather fierce Australian feminist. 2012 . and ladies. act in accordance with norms and to break them? We have to come back to the idea that it is people who are the efficacious agents. for this quite unacceptable male behaviour. If they were. Little gentlemen walk on the outside. I was then subjected to a formal ticking off in the middle of a street in Washington. At the same time your smoking increases the rate at which your cataracts develop.

sagepub. UK. He has written and edited over fifty books. One Thousand Years of Philosophy (2000) and Cognitive Science (2002). Mischel (ed. Washington. F.M.].com at Freie Universitat Berlin on November 17. pp. C. Kemp Smith.E. Linacre College. and Harré. and Fellow of Linacre College. L. N. [Riga]. DC. R. Blackmore. Oxford: Clarendon Press. I. USA [email: harre@georgetown. Addresses: Department of Psychology. Moghaddam.M. R. (1788) [1929] Critique of Pure Reason. G. (1976) The Selfish Gene. in E. DC. Oxford: Oxford University Press.) Der Dialogbegriff am Ende der 20 Jahrhundert. trans. Berlin: Hegel Insitute. 2012 . S. 123 Downloaded from est. Wittgenstein. (1969) Philosophical Papers.) The Self: Psychological and Philosophical Issues. Hesslberg (ed. the most recent of which are The Singular Self (1998). (1977) ‘What is Human Agency?’.Rom Harré Social Reality and the Myth of Social Structure References Austin. 229–39. trans. Georgetown University. s Rom Harré is Professor of Psychology at Georgetown University. Bhaskar.L. (1999) The Meme Machine. (1953) Philosophical Investigations. Ancombe. in T. (1989) Reclaiming Reality. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Kant. Washington. R. Oxford: Blackwell. Oxford: Blackwell. (1997) ‘Psychological Limitations to Political Revolutions: An Application of Social Reducton Theory’. Taylor. J. London: Verso. Oxford OX1 3JA. Oxford. London: Macmillan.

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