Centre for Social Ontology


The Centre for Social Ontology (CSO) was established in 2011 at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. Now based in the Department of Sociology at the University of Warwick, the main focus is the Morphogenetic Project.


Al‐Amoudi, I., & Latsis, J. (2014). The arbitrariness and normativity of social conventions. The British journal of sociology, 65(2), 358-378.

This paper investigates a puzzling feature of social conventions: the fact that they are both arbitrary and normative. We examine how this tension is addressed in sociological accounts of conventional phenomena. Traditional approaches tend to generate either synchronic accounts that fail to consider the arbitrariness of conventions, or diachronic accounts that miss central aspects of their normativity. As a remedy, we propose a processual conception that considers conventions as both the outcome and material cause of much human activity. This conceptualization, which borrows from the économie des conventions as well as critical realism, provides a novel perspective on how conventions are nested and defined, and on how they are established, maintained and challenged.

Archer, M. S. (2014). Realismo e o problema da agência. Estudos de Sociologia, 2(6), 51-75.

O problema central ao se teorizar sobre agenda diz respeito a como conceituar o agente humano como alguém que é parcialmente formado por sua socialidade, mas que também tem a capacidade de transformar parcialmente sua sociedade. A parte preliminar deste artigo procura mostrar como dois modelos deficientes de ser humano, um super socializado e outro subsocializado, sequencialmente dominaram a teoria social desde o Iluminsmo, assim como indicar suas deficiências para a teorização social. O restante do artigo busca, a partir do realismo social, construir uma melhor concepção de homem, atribuindo à humanidade (I) prioridade temporal, (II) autonomia relativa e (III) eficácia causal em relação aos seres sociais que nos tornamos, assim como levar em consideração os poderes que a reflexão e ação transformativas da humanidade trazem ao seu contexto social.

Margaret S. Archer, (2014), ‘Sociology for One World’, Global Dialogue, Vol 4:4 (December 2014), http://isa-global-dialogue.net/

Brock, T., & Carrigan, M. (2015). Realism and Contingency. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 45(3), 377-396.

This paper constitutes an extended response to Athanasia Chalari’s paper The Causal Impact of Resistance, which suggests that one may derive from internal conversations a causal explanation of resistance. In the context of our engagements with critical realism and digital research into social movements, we review Chalari’s main argument, before applying it to a concrete case: the student protests in London, 2010. Whilst our account is sympathetic to Chalari’s focus on interiority, we critique the individualism that is implicit in her argument, arguing that it emerges because of an underlying neglect of the relational aspects of resistance. Instead, we offer a relational realist analysis that treats resistance as process within an ontologically stratified account of reality that is mindful of the contingency of political acts. Taking this route, we establish resistance as an emergent relation, generative of distinctive “relational goods” in the context of collective action, which we locate at different levels of reality, as we move from an analysis of individual to collective reflexivity. In doing so we offer a sympathetic critique of Chalari, building on the thought provoking arguments contained within it, whilst also making a contribution to the theorisation of social movements and the “relational turn” within realist social theory (Archer, 2010, 2012).

Books & Chapters

Al-Amoudi, I., & Latsis, J. (2015). Death contested: morphonecrosis and conflicts of interpretation. In Generative Mechanisms Transforming the Social Order (pp. 231-248). Springer International Publishing.

This chapter lays the groundwork for a realist analysis of the disappearance or ‘death’ of social forms, which is particularly relevant in societies experiencing intensified social transformation. Whilst the notion of morphogenesis can account both for the acceleration of change and for the multiplication of coexisting social forms, it does not allow us, on its own, to theorise their disappearance. Addressing this gap in the theory of morphogenesis opens interesting avenues for the philosophical study of society.

Our contribution is organised around three related questions. Firstly, how should we conceptualise the disappearance of social forms and can this conceptualisation draw from the biological conception of death? Secondly, how do concept-dependence and reflexivity differentiate social death from biological death? Thirdly, how can we observe and interpret the agonies that accompany the death of social forms?

We conclude by providing an illustration of how the theory might be applied to a case with significant current socio-economic ramifications: the disappearance of life-long employment in developed capitalist economies.

Donati, P., & Archer, M. S. (2015). The relational subject. Cambridge University Press.

Mark Carrigan, (2015), An Interview with David Day, in S. Tarrant (Ed.), Gender, Sex, and Politics: In the Streets and Between the Sheets in the 21st Century. Routledge.

Carrigan, M. (2015). Asexuality. In The Palgrave Handbook of the Psychology of Sexuality and Gender (pp. 7-23). Palgrave Macmillan UK.

What is ‘asexuality’? While answers to this question would once have predominantly involved references to biological processes, it is increasingly likely that someone asking this question will receive a rather different response: an asexual person is someone who does not experience sexual attraction.Bogaert (2004) was an early and influential contribution to the literature on asexuality reporting on a secondary analysis of the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (NATSAL), in which 1.05% of participants reported never having experienced sexual attraction towards anyone. Follow-up studies on the next generation of NATSAL found 0.5% of respondents falling into this category (Bogaert, 2012, p. 45). While asexual people are numerous, it is still difficult to be clear about how numerous they are. First, these results do not indicate identification as asexual, but only experiences which have, in other instances, led people to identify as such. Second, there are important questions which can be raised about the criterion of having never experienced sexual attraction, reflecting different orientations to how we understand something like ‘asexuality’. The question “what is asexuality?” is much more complicated than it can initially seem.

Mark Carrigan, (2015), Asexuality and Applied Psychology, in C. Richards & M.J. Barker, (eds.), The Palgrave Handbook of the Psychology of Sexuality and Gender. Palgrave Macmillan.

Archer, M. S. (2014). Late Modernity.

Archer, M. S. (2014). The generative mechanism re-configuring late modernity. In Late Modernity (pp. 93-117). Springer International Publishing.

In this chapter a specific generative mechanism is advanced to account for the profound changes that have taken place since 1980. It derives from the enlarged pool of ‘contingent complementarities’ within the Cultural System and the exploitation of these complementary items to produce novel morphogenetic effects. The key institutions involved are, on the one hand, multinational and finance capitalism, and on the other, university based digital science. Symbiosis between them grows because market enterprises need to be increasingly competitive and digital science depends upon diffusion. Their synergy leads new variety to stimulate further variety. However, their situational logics are in mutual opposition: the zero-sum logic of market competition versus the diffusionists’ logic of opportunity fostering the ‘commons’, of which all are beneficiaries. This is the relational contestation of late modernity. The two logics promote divergent morphogenetic changes that steer the developing global social order in different directions. Market competition has resulted in the current crisis from which Third Sector initiatives cannot immediately extricated it – meaning we cannot yet speak of the advent of Morphogenic society.

Archer, M. S. (2014). Structural Conditioning and Personal Reflexivity. Distant Markets, Distant Harms: Economic Complicity and Christian Ethics: Economic Complicity and Christian Ethics, 25.

Carrigan, M., Gupta, K., & Morrison, T. G. (Eds.). (2015). Asexuality and sexual normativity: An anthology. Routledge.