File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_1996/96-05-20.182, message 48


Date:          Tue, 16 Jan 1996 14:17:08 GMT-700
Subject:       Re: the ontological status of structures


Heikki suggests "What seems to be at stake in most of the 
contributions is the ontological status of structures".  

This is certainly true, but the conception of agency is central to 
the ontological status of structure.  In that structure is 
"enabling", seems to imply that a conception of structure is not 
"free" or distinct from a conception of agency.

i also agree with Heikki that the differences in interpretations from 
Giddens, Bhaskar, Porpora, and ("orthodox") Marxism, is one of 
degree.  Colin is also correct to point out that the ontological 
commitment of structure has further methodologocial, epistemological, 
and (i would add) practical consquences.

Hence, the differences in interpretations are central, although 
perhaps not THE social theory question.

i am not convinced that Giddens's account of structure reduces to 
an intersubjective analysis.  However, it does seem fair to 
speak of general tendencies (and dangers) of interpretations.  Whereby 
intersubjectivity may apply to Giddens.

Heikki lists four interpretations of structure:

"1. Structures as virtual, yet real.

2. Structures as non-virtual and real, but neither distinct nor on a 
   different level than agency.

3. Structures as non-virtual and real and also on a different level than 
   agency.

4. Structures as non-virtual and real and, in a addition to being on a
   different level than agency, also distinct from agency."

Personally, i would like to argue that structures are real, can 
metaporically be depicted as virtual, as long as this does not mean 
that they loss their ontological and objective status.

Structure 2 does not seem to me to be Doug's position (perhaps closer 
to 4?).  2 seems to have the strongest tendency toward reification.  
Personally, i believe this to be the *most* dangerous tendency, for 
it denies both an adequate conceptions of agency and potential for 
(especially conscious) transformation.

However, i would further argue that 4 also as a tendency to imply 
reification.

Also, i am unsure in what way one can speak of structure and agency 
as non-distinct, but on different levels, if this is the case we 
should also have: 5. distinct, though not different levels?

Let me make sure i understand the difference between distinct and 
different levels.  By distinct: i understand this to be in reference 
to the duality of structure and agency, in that neither can (or 
should) be reduced to the other -- as depicted by the Weberian and 
Durkheimian cases (PON chapter 2).  Different levels, also is in 
reference to the duality of structure and agency, specifically in 
avoiding reifing structure and agency to a dualism.  

Whereby, we can discuss distinction with respect to the ontological 
status of each one, and different levels with respect to interaction 
between these two different "things".

With respect to different levels, we (should) want to speak about 
ontological priority, without reifing.  In this sense, the 
term "different level" seems to overstate the case.  Better we can 
concieve of time-space relation, as does Giddens and (i believe) 
Bhaskar.

For Giddens the time-space relation seems to suggest intersubjective, 
perhaps because it emphasizes the discursive consciousnes aspect; 
while for Bhaskar the time-space relation seems to suggest 
objectivity, perhaps because of his emphasis on the pre-existence of 
social relations with respect to the individual.

Moreover, Giddens conception seems to depend on the a notion of 
consciousness (discursive, practical, and un-), whereas Bhaskar does 
not have structure so much dependent on consciousness, but rather 
more directly related to agency as enabling.

The exchange between Heikki and Colin on *mechanism* seems quite 
helpful --in that it is related to the question: what ontological 
status should be given to a generative mechanism?

I.P. Wright offers a few (soical) examples:  e.g. the rate of profit, 
mass unemployment, capitalist markets.  For example the status given 
to the (tendency for the) rate of profit (to fall) will very much 
determine our understanding of a capitalist society [however, 
generative mechanisms are here understood as tendencies in the 
Bhaskarian sense, not *necessarilly* as empirical manifestations].

Personally, i do not see the import over the term "virtual".  In one 
sense the falling rate of profit is virtual, in that it does not 
exist somewhere as a natural enity, or in the same way as say gravity.
It is in this sense that this "generative mechanism" is time-space 
dependent, specifically the falling rate of profit is t-s dependent on 
the existence of capitalist relations or profit motivated behavior, 
but at the same in the time-space relation, we can speak of the 
falling rate of profit in the same way that we of (say) gravity.

Finally i do agree with Heikki that external and internal relations 
become centeral to the discussion.  He (i assume he will not mind me 
mentioning) has argued this in his article "Concepts of 'Action', 
'Structure' and 'Power' in 'Critical Social Realism': A Positive and 
Reconstructive Critique" (*Journal for the Theory of Social 
Behaviour* 21:2 pp.221-249).  Although as the title suggests Heikki 
is more concerned with Action, Power, and Structure, i find the 
greatest sympathies with the discussion of external and internal 
relaions in understanding not only structure but also agency.

Looking forward to futher discussion...


hans despain
University of Utah
despain-AT-econ.sbs.utah.edu






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