For Emergence: Refining Archer's Account of Social Structure


Dave Elder-Vass Department of Sociology, University of Essex, Colchester, CO4 3SQ, United Kingdom


The question of social structure and its relationship to human agency remains one of the central problems of social theory. One of the most promising attempts to provide a solution has been Margaret Archer's morphogenetic approach, which invokes emergence to justify treating social structure as causally effective. Archer's argument, however, has been criticised by a number of authors who suggest that the examples she cites can be explained in reductionist terms and thus that they fail to sustain her claim for the independent causal effectiveness of social structure. This paper offers an alternative argument to support the emergentist claim for the causal effectiveness of social structure, and shows how this argument refutes a representative critique of social emergence.