Margaret Archer on reflexivity

Notes. These are relevant for a discussion of social intelligence and mass intellectuality.

Routinised action, habitual behaviour, is not discussed to much extent in the Critical Realist literature. Routinised action performs a reproduction function, it’s a perpetuating device that reinforces the status quo in conditions of little and very slow change – morphostasis. There is no explicit theorisation of what makes routinised action routine.

Archer considers ‘meanings’ to be ’causes’.

Dismisses Bauman, Beck and Giddens as ‘central conflationists’ but concentrates her attack on Beck in particular. They conflate the affects of structure with the causal powers of agents. They talk of reflexivity at the level of systems and institutions but this is anthropomorphism as it can only be a property of individuals. However else we may explain change in institutions and systems it is not through their reflexivity.

Reflexivity is an individual phenomenon and in conditions of late modernity we have seen a significant growth. Reflexivity is the capacity that all normal individuals have to consider themselves in relation to their social context and their social context in relation to themselves. We all have this capacity. Reflexivity is a mediating process; how we react to situations we have to involuntaristically to obtain some portion of self government and become to some extent the human being we want to be.

Against Bourdieu, she says notion of habitus amounts to saying that disposition is position. But disposition is not homologous with position.

Premodern societies are characterised by morphostasis. But even here a degree of reflexivity is required. In fact reflexivity is a precondition for the existence of any society Even in ‘primitive’ society individuals always have to deal with ‘unscripted’ situations where they must work out for themselves how to cope within the traditional way of doing things. To this extent reflexivity ‘papers over the cracks’ of traditional ways of doing things. In such societies education is little more than socialisation and induction.

Earry modernity saw dramatic changes but over a period of about 300 years. Many could still live on the basis of routinised action and changes were slow enough for socialisation to adapt to new modes of habitual behaviour. But for some groups the need for reflexivity grew. This was a period of great ideological debate over what education was, for what purpose and who should control it.

We have now entered the morphogenetic millennium of rapid change that outstrips the capacity of  intergenerational socialisation processes and knowledge transference. There are more and more contextual discontinuities and a reduction of many spheres of routinised action. Processes of socialisation are fragmenting. The need for reflexivity has become ubiquitous – it is thrust upon nearly everyone. It is the case that we must now, reflexively, make lives of our own ‘but not in circumstances of our own choosing’.

See also:
Margaret S Archer Routine, Reflexivity, and Realism in Sociological Theory Volume 28, Issue 3, pages 272–303, September 2010. In this article she doesn’t name Bauman as one of the ‘central conflationists’ and there is no mention of him in the text or references. Perhaps she’s changed her mind.

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