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Culture and Agency: The Place of Culture in Social Theory
Culture and Agency: The Place of Culture in Social Theory
by Margaret S. Archer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £31.41

4.0 out of 5 stars A new sociology of Culture, 10 May 2014
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This work is the first of a trilogy of work now refered to as "The Archers". After Archer's substantive work in the sociology of educational systems published in 1979, she bagan her life long mission to create a new realist sociology which has continued to develop her "morphogenetic" approach first discussed in 1979.

Interestingly, after the publication of a number of works developing her sociological theory, the first of "The Archers" trilogy began with an analysis of the role of culture, published in 1988. This was superceded by her more general theoretical work "Realist Social Theory - The morphogenetic approach" published almost ten years later in 1995. Both these works can be considered to be at the macro end of sociological theorising.

Then, in 2000 came "Being Human - the problem of agency" which ended the Archers first trilogy, but marked a distinctive turn towards "people" and the micro. This was continued during the first ten years of the new centuary whereby a whole new approach examining reflexivity was introduced as the "bridge" between structure and agency.

This book lays down Archer's realist theory, that persuasively argues that the morphogenic approach can be applied to both the structual and cultural domains, and indeed can examine the interplay between them.

In "Culture and Agency", two key elements of her theorising are made explicit. Archer's main influence on her theory has been David Lockwood who in the early 1960's argued that a distinction should, and could, be made between the "parts" and the "people", namely system and social integration. Following from this, the second strand of Archer's theory was developed - the morphogenetic approach - structure/culture > interaction > elaboration (morphogenesis or morphostasis).

Archer also provides an excellent attack onconflation - downwards (where the system dominates the people), upwards (where the people dominate the system),and central where the two are combined without time separation - explicity rejecting Giddens.

The book starts with an excellent chapter, arguably the best in the book, that attacks the "myth of cultural integration" whereby culture has been assumed wrongly to be homogenous and almost secondary to structure. The revised edition, published after her second theoretical work (1996) ends with an excellent critique of Habermas's sociological theorising. In this she reiterates her morhogenetic sequence that avoids conflation and instead is focused on social change over time.

Whilst this is a theoretic work, my one critcism would be that some more substantive examples of the theory in play could have been provided. When drawing upon examples that demonstrate the theory, she very much concentrates on education and religion - admitedly though this is not that surprising has she has a keen interest in both.

In conclusion, this work represents the first major theoretical journey of one of the most influence sociologists of our time that continues to this day.


Realist Social Theory: The Morphogenetic Approach
Realist Social Theory: The Morphogenetic Approach
by Margaret S. Archer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £27.51

5.0 out of 5 stars Massive contribution to Social Theory, 2 Feb 2013
This book is Margaret Archer's most influential work upon modern day sociological theory. She began her Morphogentic approach in her massive sociological history of educational systems in 1979, after which she became more influenced by the growing realist movement championed by Roy Bhaskar.

This book is a clear statement of the realist approach that views sociology as essentially consisting of an analysis of social change over time. Her morphogentic sequence of "conditioning > interaction > elaboration" is arguably the greatest contribution to sociological theory since the founding fathers themselves.

After Archer concentrated on the "macro" during the eighties and nineties, over the last fifteen or so years she then headed towards the "mirco" and developed the view that the "place" where the interaction between structure and agency happened was within the internal conversation. After spending considerable time examiming reflexivity I believe she has now gone full circle to the macro where she began.

Archer is currently working on examining the hypothesis that society itself has become morphogenetic, and it will be interesting to see how much of the orginal theory as detailed in this work she retains.

Without doubt, this is the work that clearly states the realist view within sociological theory and quite rightly challenges the notions of relativism that affected so much of post modernist theorising. Archer knows that social reality does indeed exist, and whilst not always observable on the surface, it impacts and affects us all. At the same time, "men make their own history" and we have the ability not only to understand social reality but to also change it (fallibly)for the better.


How To Change The World: Tales of Marx and Marxism
How To Change The World: Tales of Marx and Marxism
by Eric Hobsbawm
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.09

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Marxist history of Marxism, 2 Feb 2013
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Eric Hobsbawm is arguably the greatest Marxist historian of the twentieth centuary, who had profound influence upon students and scholars of history, sociology and politics. He was not only an intellectual giant, he also impacted political action - the Marxist movements of the sixties and seventies drew upon his analysis of history and it provided "science" behind their radicalism.

I know of no other historian that had such vast knowledge of both Marxist thought itself, and at the same time applied Marxist analysis to his huge amount of substantive work. This book is devoted to the former, and gives us a thorough history of Marxism. It begins by putting Marxist theory itself in historical and political context, then proceeds to consider Marxist thought and influence in Marx's own lifetime. The second part of the book is devoted to Marxist theory and influence after Marx's death, through to the present day. The book is therefore a full and detailed history of Marxism and will be invaluable to students encountering Marx for the first time.

However, I have two critcisms of the book. Because it is a collection of Hobsbawm's writings about the history of Marxism over a fifty year period, we are not at any time actually provided with a summary of what Marxist thought actually consists of. Secondly, Hobsbawm refers to many obscure and virtually unknown intellectuals and activists who we are presumed to have prior knowledge of. This sometimes makes the reading difficult, as you find yourself needing to find out about these people before you can understand where they "fit in".

That said, we cannot understate the massive influence that Hobsbawn has had over the last sixty years,and he remained a committed and truly devout communist until the end.


The Reflexive Imperative in Late Modernity
The Reflexive Imperative in Late Modernity
by Margaret S. Archer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £20.66

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Realist Social Theory - the next phase, 28 July 2012
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This book concludes Margaret Archer's trilogy on the examination of the "inner conversation", or reflexivity, as being the site of the interplay between structure and agency in social theory. Arguably, Archer's most important contribution to social theory is her book "Realist Social theory" (1995), when she lays out her explicity realist account of theorising through her "morphogentic approach". This theory had been developed in the late seventies with her mammoth investigations into educational systems in Britain and France (Social Origins of Educational systems, 1979). It was in this work that she introduces her morphogenetic sequence of structure > interation > Elaboration (morphostasis or morphogenesis). Up until the mid nineties Archer's work was very much at the macro end of sociological theory, however from that point, up until this latest work, she has been very much at the micro end, beginning with (probably her most complex work) "Being Human: The problem of agency" (2000).

Her first explicit examination of reflexivity came with "Structure, Agency and the Internal Conversation" in 2003 which contained her first substantive analysis of the inner conversation, and was followed by a much broader study in "Making our way through the world" in 2007. In these works, Archer places the interplay of structure and agency as being situated within the individuals "ways" of reflecting upon the reality they are (objectively) placed within. She identifies four types of reflexivity that most people use in making their way through the world, which is also necesarily related to their ultimate concerns in life. Which mode of reflexity people use, she argues, has implications on their career paths, relationships with family and friends and even their possible social mobility (up, down or static).

Communicative reflexivity, whereby internal conversations are completed and confirmed by others, generally implies "staying the same" as the environment the agent was brought up in, or forms part of. Autonomous reflexives have self contained internal conversations that leads directly to action, and these reflexives are generally materialistic and competitive. Fractured reflexives are often troubled, and their internal conversations often distress or disorientate them.

This latest work is a study of sociology under-graduates during their time at university (Warwick, where Archer was professor from 1979 until 2010)and completes her substantive analysis which began some twelve years earlier. In this book, Archer argues that it is meta reflexity that may becoming more dominant in post-modernity; meta reflexives are the most developed of the reflexives as they conduct "critical inner conversations about their inner conversations", and have very certain ideas about society, in particular they have values that centre around around fairness and promoting positive social change. These meta reflectives, it is argued, could have become the new "vanguard" for progressive change within an increasingly morphogenetic society.

For sociological theory at a more general level, this book argues that old versions of socialisation theory must now be considered redundant due to increased complexities of family, community and wider social relationships within an increasingly reflexive world.

More interestingly, this book ends with the view that society itself has become morphogenetic, and now morphogentic theory is no longer not just a theoretical tool to aid analysis, but almost a new "type" of society that is replacing modernity.

Archer admits that this book is indeed only a spring board to the next where she will examine morphogenetic society itself, and many sociologists will be waiting with bated breath!

She ends, I think, on a rather optimistic note. She appears hopeful that the meta-reflexives will change the world for the good in post modernity, and many of us just hope that she is right.

In conclusion, this book adds yet another massive contribution to sociological theory, and indeed, in the end, brings Archer full circle back to the macro level.

A must have book for all lovers of social theory, from arguably one of the most influential and important social theorist of modern times.


Why Marx Was Right
Why Marx Was Right
by Terry Eagleton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.91

5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb sociological introduction to Marx, 12 May 2012
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This review is from: Why Marx Was Right (Paperback)
Much has already been said in various reviews of this book of its relevence to students of philosophy, politics and economics, but I believe its greatest use will be to new students of sociology. Although explicity not designed as an analysis of Marxist sociology, this book will be of massive interest to budding sociologists, as it offers both a realist and humanist account of Marxist theory. Eagleton demonstrates that Marx combined both an analysis of structure (the social relations of production) and agency ("men make their own history")in a wide historical context. He also counters the misconception (often found in introductory sociology textbooks)that Marx was a rigid economic determinist and had no interest in anything other than class. This book is concerned with the very "core" of Marxist theorising, and is fun, informative and absolutely relevent to the present.


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