My book Profit and Gift in the Digital Economy argues that we should explain the economy in terms of complexes of appropriative practices, while my earlier work stresses that causal influence is exerted by entities – people, objects, and social entities like organisations (which are in turn composed of people and often objects too). In this post I propose to explain the relation between the two – and the explanation is of wider importance because it leads us to think about how some social structures can be built on or from other social structures.
Increasingly, critical realist scholars have been discussing the implications of realist theories of causality for the research methods we use in the social sciences. The usual view – which I will agree with – is that realism is compatible with a wide range of different research methods. But I will suggest that for realists there is a gap between conventional methods and the explanatory task, and then speculate a little on how we might fill that gap in practice.
One of Roy Bhaskar’s central ontological claims is that in addition to the actual – the things and events that occur in the material universe – our ontology must also recognise a domain of the real, which includes the actual, but extends beyond it. In his first book, A Realist Theory of Science, he argued that the non-actual includes real causal powers, a very strong argument that I explained towards the end of my last blog post. However, if we accept this argument this opens up rather a large question: what else could be real but not actual?
One of my original aims in studying social ontology was to work out how the social could depend on the material. That would help to give us a non-dualist way of seeing the world, with no mysterious split between the material and the social.
I’ve called this blog ‘Materially Social’ because the phrase links together the original motivations for my research programme with some recent developments in it. Today I’m going to focus on the original motivations and where they’ve led me – I’ll post about the recent developments later.