Category Archives: Sociology of Knowledge

A contemporary institutionalist view of the old structure-agency problematic

… we take the following as our mantra: In the short run, actors create relations; in the long run, relations create actors. The difference between methodological individualism and social constructivism is not for us a matter of religion; it is a matter of time scale. In the short run, all objects—physical, biological, or social—appear fixed, atomic. But in the long run, all objects evolve, that is, emerge, transform, and disappear. To understand the genesis of objects, we argue, requires a relational and historical turn of mind. On longer time frames, transformational relations come first, and actors congeal out of iterations of such constitutive relations.

“The Problem of Emergence”

In Padgett, John F. and Powell, William W. (2012) The Emergence of Markets and Organizations. Princeton University Press. p. 2. 

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Elective affinities

Talcott Parsons translated Weber’s use of the word “Wahlverwandtschaft” as “correlations”…but maybe a better treatment would be “elective affinities.”

In view of the tremendous confusion of interdependent influences between the material basis, the forms of social and political organization, and the ideas current in the time of the Reformation, we can only proceed by investigating whether and at what points certain correlations (Wahlverwandtschaft) between forms of religious belief and practical ethics can be worked out. At the same time we shall as far as possible clarify the manner and the general direction in which, by virtue of those relationships, the religious movements have influenced the development of material culture. Only when this has been determined with reasonable accuracy can the attempt be made to estimate to what extent the historical development of modern culture can be attributed to those religious forces and to what extent to others.

Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (underline and parenthetical mine)

For more see Richard Herbert Howe (1978) Max Weber’s Elective Affinities: Sociology Within the Bounds of Pure Reason. American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 84, No. 2 pp. 366-385

Bruno Latour rejected the fetishism of the commodity form. Maybe he shouldn’t have.

But with respect to the penseé sauvage, this reliance on the deep structure of Western thought, with its assimilation of the reproduction of people to the reproduction of goods as a kinship of substance, cannot do for the science to which we now aspire. The confusion of categories is too immoderate. It puts us all, biological and social scientists alike, in the state known all too well to the practitioners of totemism: of mess and “dirt,” as Mary Douglas has taught us, of pollution and tabu. Beyond all the politics, it is of course this descent into the kingdom of tabu that ultimately makes sociobiology so fascinating. But we pay a heavy penalty in knowledge for the distinctions we are forced to surrender.

Marshall Sahlins The Use and Abuse of Biology. 1976.  p.106

1970s Marshall Sahlins; Latour before the letter?

We seem unable to escape from this perpetual movement, back and forth between the culturalization of nature and the naturalization of culture. It frustrates our understanding at once of society and of the organic world. In the social sciences we exhaust our own symbolic capacities in an endless reproduction of utilitarian theorizing, some of it economic, some of it ecologic. In the natural sciences, it is the vulgar and scientific sociobiologies. All these efforts taken together represent the modern encompassment of the sciences, both of culture and of life, by the dominant ideology of possessive individualism… Give it its due: sociobiology is a Scientific Totemism.

Marshall Sahlins The Use and Abuse of Biology. 1976. pp. 105-106

The intellectual content of research can and should be considered “institutional” in the same way we think about other conventional arrangements and practices as institutional. Hence, we may also speak of the modernization or rationalization of research problems, theories, methods, concepts, and evaluation criteria. The fine- grained twists and turns of technical debates among scientists turn out, upon close examination, to track the other institutional commitments that the scientists have made.

— Elihu Gerson (1998)