The Place of Construction in Sociological Realism

Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 46 (4):517-536 (2016)
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Abstract

In the contemporary epistemological debate on social reality, characterized by the crisis of post-modern theories and the emergence of new forms of realism, are there any approaches not acknowledging some specific ontological character to the construction of social objects? The question is apparently rhetorical, but the implication of this problem are not obvious. In the sociological literature the opposition between reality and construction is not clearly defined. Sometimes it is considered a dichotomy, in other situations the synthesis of alternative theses in a dialectical horizon. The more systematic attempt considers reality and construction as analytical macro-dimensions where the relation between social ontology and epistemology operates. From this stance, the acknowledgement of the role of social construction in a wider realist horizon is the true overtaking of postmodern philosophy. If it is true that facts exist beyond representations, it is also true that representations themselves have a specific effect on reality, who continually re-structures itself around specific relations of emergent power. Stating that reality is socially constructed is an evident limit of postmodern theories. On the other hand, stating that only facts exist constitute an impoverishment of realism and its replacement in neo-positivism. Social phenomena are real because they are based on specific properties of the inter-subjective construction of social reality. This thesis represents the revitalization of an advanced, anti-positivistic realism and the definition of the specificity of social objects. The aim of this essay is to search for a specific place of construction within the development of realist social ontology.

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