This structures. Furthermore, Archer suggests that the “library”

This leads Archer to question the notion of structures as
virtual. What, she asks, of concepts such as roles or institutions that have
associated relations, rights, and responsibilities that preexist those who come
to hold them? This is, following the tenets of critical realism, an approach
that is relational in character, arguing that certain social positions exist
because of their place in a network of relations, carrying with them necessary
internal relations. Thus, for example, the institution of rent carries with it
the associated roles of landlord and tenant, both of which carry with them
certain properties as a consequence of their necessary and internal rela tions
(Sayer 1992). Of course, it is feasible for a person to go against the
constraints of such a role, but this is not without cost and brings the person
into conflict with wider structures. Furthermore, Archer suggests that the
“library” of knowledge exceeds the capacity of any indi vidual to
recreate and has been generated over time in a fashion that renders it
independent of any knower at any particular time (Archer 1996). Relations of
landlord and tenant, for example, are buttressed not only by legal regulation,
but also by bodies of theory. The analysis of any concrete situation needs to
take into account such bodies of propositions, which may contain contradic
tions within or between the


In a detailed and convincing chapter, the book
scrutinizes the shortcomings of a third position called elisionism, which tries
to overcome the dichotomy of structure and agency by conceiving of it as a rule
and its instantiation. Rules exist only insofar as they are applied in actions,
and actions can be understood only with respect to rules. The elisionist
conflation, which points unmistakably to Anthony Giddens’s theory of
structuration, fails—according to Margaret Archer—to account for the
objectivity and externality of social structure and self. This objectivity is
attributed to the material effects on social structures and to the knowledge
orienting the action. The realist position insists on the possibility of an
undistorted access to material reality as well as on the transcendental
grounding of truth. It does not sacrifice the grand tradition of 18th-century
science and the commonsense foundation of science to the excitement of radical
new perspectives. Certainly, Archer’s realism appears to be slightly
old-fashioned and less innovative than the elegant problem shifts of radical
constructivism in Giddens, Luhmann, or Garfinkel, but it can claim to answer
questions that constructivist approaches tend to disregard: Why do collectively
shared expectations fail? Why can surprising and unexpected events be socially
observed? Why can external factors limit and interfere with social
communication, and so forth. Realism provides a simple and straightforward
solution to the problem of surprise and unexpectedness: there is an external
reality that can resThe second part of the book elaborates the morphogenetic
approach to the problem of structure and agency. Both levels are not only
linked by contingent causal relations but sequentially ordered: existing
structures produce actions, which on their turn produce new structures, and so
forth. The idea of a temporal sequence in the relationship between microand
macroevents is very convincing and one of the points where Archer advances the
current state of the debate. Nobody has focused on it before in a similar
manner. The core of the second part consists of a highly systematic
investigation of different situational logics that are generated by structural
and cultural conditions, of the morphogenesis of agency, and of the elaboration
of structure. Here Margaret Archer offers an impressive conceptual paradigm
that rearranges classical macrosociological explanations and provides the
necessary illustrative hints at historical cases (most convincingly with
respect to examples from the educational system). 

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