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Social and System Integration: The Philosophical Foundations of a Key Distinction in (British) Social Theory

Daniel Chernilo Loughborough University, UK The Author(s), 2012

Margaret S. Archer (1996) Social Integration and System Integration: Developing the Distinction Sociology 30, 4: 679-99. Nicos Mouzelis (1997) Social and System Integration: Lockwood, Habermas, Giddens Sociology 31, 1: 111-9. Jose Mauricio Domingues (2000) Social Integration, System Integration and Collective Subjectivity Sociology 34, 2: 224-41.

Social theory is a truly international, though arguably not yet an altogether global, field. Different national and regional traditions can be distinguished and play an important role, but translations, exchanges and all kinds of cross-fertilizations have long been normal occurrence. The philosophes of the Enlightenment read each others works regardless of nationality; Marx blended together the British, French and German traditions of his time; and contemporary social theory has found a new impetus by looking at developments beyond its traditionally Western poles of development. The national in national intellectual traditions, as much as in all other national phenomena, does not refer to endogenous or selfcontained trends but rather speaks of specific configurations that are relatively stable while remaining contingent and open to various influences. The distinction between social integration and system integration has been more salient in UK sociology than anywhere else (Archer 1995, Giddens 1984). Indeed, it was first raised by David Lockwood (1992) in the 1960s and its exploration is central to the three articles under consideration here. A key exception to this is of course Jrgen Habermas (1984, 1987) use of social and system integration in his two-volume Theory of Communicative Action. But Habermas does not really discuss Lockwoods formulation and his rendition of the distinction has more to do with the attempt at bridging the gap between hermeneutics and action theory,

Key Articles in British Sociology Social and System Integration

Chernilo

on the one hand, and functionalism and system theory, on the other. The distinction between social and system integration is partially convergent with several others in sociological theory throughout its history: community/society, individualism/collectivism, micro/macro, structure/agency and indeed Habermas own system/lifeworld. At the same time, it has its own specificities: it does not favor one side of the distinction against the other, it is ontological as well as analytical and methodological and it rejects that questions of scope or scale are central in sociological analysis. Whether in terms of theoretical consistency (does it allow us to grasp modernitys key structural developments?) or empirical purchase (does it offer a clear temporal framework for separating structural change from stability?), the emphasis in all three articles is that of its analytical potential. At its best, sociological theory ought to allow for a better understanding of social life itself: from international migration to educational achievement, from religious beliefs to pandemic obesity, from ethnicity to financial and ecological crises. Thus, the distinction between social and system integration should allow for the differentiation between actors behavior and structural trends. More precisely, it does so by treating social phenomena as emergent: while there is no society without individual human beings, sociologys object of study is social life understood as autonomous from what happens to these individuals, their motivations and intentions. My central argument in this very short intervention is that there is one additional dimension to the distinction between social and system integration that still deserves further research: its philosophical foundations. This is not altogether absent in the articles above see Domingues piece in particular but here I should like to emphasize the specific debt to modern natural law that inheres in the rise and main features of modern social theory (Chernilo 2013). From Grotius to Hegel, and with particular clarity in Hobbes and Rousseau, a fundamental question is that of the interaction between social and non-social forces in the constitution of social life. The transition from the state of nature to the civil condition that is central to modern natural law becomes, in sociological terms, the interplay between our a-social individuality that only becomes fully-fledged human nature as we interact with other human beings. The social element of social relations can only be explicated by looking at the ways in which the human constitutes but does not fully determine the social. In other words, the unacknowledged presupposition upon which social and system integration depends is whether our fundamental human attributes are innate or they rather emerge as the sublated result of the rise of autonomous social life: does social life take the form it does because it accommodates to human attributes that are presocial or, conversely, are those human attributes the result of social life itself and thus we only become fully human because, and to the extent that, our social institutions take particular shapes? Sociology needs not and must not dissolve into philosophy. Yet its key themes, concepts and concerns still have to be scrutinised further vis--vis the philosophical traditions out of which it originally emerged. Technical distinctions in sociological theory, as it is the case with social and system integration, may

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Key Articles in British Sociology Social and System Integration

Chernilo

still need to be complemented by a philosophical sociology: what conceptions of the human are being presupposed for our empirical sociological research to be actually possible.

References Archer, M. S. (1995) Realist Social Theory: The Morphogenetic Approach, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Chernilo, D. (2013) The Natural Law Foundations of Modern Social Theory, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Giddens, A. (1984) The Constitution of Society, Cambridge: Polity Press. Habermas, J. (1984, 1987 [1981]) Theory of Communicative Action, 2 Vols., Cambridge: Polity Press. Lockwood, D. (1992 [1963]) Social integration and system integration, in Lockwood, D. Solidarity and Schism. The problem of disorder in Durkheimian and Marxist Sociology, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Daniel Chernilo Daniel Chernilo (BA U Chile, PhD Warwick) is Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Loughborough University. He has written widely on nationalism, cosmopolitanism and the problem of universalism in classical and contemporary social thought. He is the author of A Social Theory of the Nation-State (Routledge, 2007), The Natural Law Foundations of Modern Social Theory (Cambridge University Press, 2013) and, in Spanish, of Nacionalismo y Cosmopolitismo (UDP, 2010) and La Pretensin Universalista de la Teora Social (LOM, 2011). He has given over forty invited seminars and lectures in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, the Czech Republic, Germany, Singapore and the UK. He is also a member of the international advisory boards of the British Journal of Sociology, European Journal of Social Theory and Revista de Sociologa.

Any views or opinions expressed in this collection are those of the contributors only. They are not endorsed by and do not reflect the views of the British Sociological Association.

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