File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_2001/bhaskar.0101, message 21

Date: Thu, 11 Jan 2001 21:24:27 +0000
Subject: BHA: CR social theory - 'going dialectical'?

Hi Alan Norrie and all,

I've been reading with great interest:

Alan Norrie, *Punishment, Responsibility and Justice: a relational
critique*. OUP, 2000. (hardback), 242pp, 
0 19 825956 5

Since the title could suggest that this is a book for legal theorists
only, I would like to say that it emphatically is not - it is very
relevant to social theory and analysis in general (agency/structure,
person/self, etc and their bearing on issues of moral responsibility).

Alan is one of the few critical realists who engages with Bhaskar's
*Dialectic*. His book is worth consulting for its lucid account of the
Hegelian epistemological dialectic and Bhaskar's development of it
alone, and for its dialectical critique of the analytical method which
informs legal thinking. There is also an interesting 'coming to terms'
with poststructuralism, which draws on poststructuralism's own
dialectical commitments and acknowledges the force of its critique of
the abstract liberal subject while at the same time holding onto a
notion of the reality of agency reflected in the concept of such a
subject, thereby steering a (dialectical or relational) middle path
between Kantianism and poststructuralism.

To locate this path, Alan attempts to marry Bhaskar's social philosophy
to Harre's social psychology. He admits that this is a controversial
move in that there are significant differences of approach between the
two, citing Margaret Archer's new book, *Being Human* Ch. 3 (the
manuscript of which he doubtless had access to): Harre stresses the
primacy of the social over the individual, which nonetheless has a
relative autonomy; Bhaskar argues that human beings possess certain
emergent powers by virtue of their biological constitution, and these
powers are carried over into his account of human being in social
relations. They share enough common ground however (Alan suggests) to
make the move worthwhile. 'Harre's powerful account of the symbiotic
quality of the relationship between the personal and the public finds
the middle way between [Kantian individualism and social
constructionism]... It helps to explain Bhaskar's dialectical sense of
the ways in which individuals exist in a social and relational flow of
being. The key aspect in both accounts is of a continuing, intrinsic
connection between the individual and the social (Bhaskar), the personal
and the public (Harre).... We [are given] a sense of a location of the
self in an ambiguous and ambivalent 'space between' the individual and
the social. The self forms and reforms, evolves and revolves in a world
that is itself evolving and revolving.' (p. 213)

While this is a little too processual and whirling for my own
understanding, and possibly leaves the door ajar for 'sociological
imperialism', it will be interesting to see whether the implicit
invitation to (constructive) controversy is taken up and in particular
whether the Archerian critical realist orthodoxy (recently supported and
elaborated by Sean Creaven) can withstand baptism by fluid in
*Dialectic*. I see no reason in principle why it can not, but the proof
of the pudding will be in the eating....


Mervyn Hartwig
13 Spenser Road
Herne Hill
London SE24 ONS
United Kingdom
Tel: 020 7 737 2892

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