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DHUM 25A04 - How We Change the Social World

Type d'enseignement : Seminar

Semester : Autumn 2018-2019

Number of hours : 24

Language of tuition : English



Course Description

The social sciences are often accused of having models, theories, or assumptions that are unrealistic. But what does this mean? To explain why a science is unrealistic requires us to identify what reality it is opposed to. In the case of social science, this must be social reality. Therefore, the focus of this course is to study how social reality exists, and importantly, how it changes. In philosophical jargon, this area of study is called Social Ontology. The starting point, then, which is generally agreed upon in philosophy, is that the structures that make up the social world—universities, governments, money, gender, for example—would not exist if human beings did not exist. Hence, it stands to reason that in one way or another we brought them into being. But this is where agreement ends. How we brought them into being and maintain them in existence are hotly debated topics. This course will start by analysing one contemporary answer to such questions, that of Cambridge Social Ontology. The second part will then be devoted to looking at alternative views, namely those of Berkeley Social Ontology, Existentialism, and Gender Theory. Finally, the course will examine how an understanding of how the social world exists can inform how we choose to study social phenomena, how we conceive of ethics, how we comprehend specific social entities, and how we might affect social change.


SLADE-CAFFAREL, Yannick (Visiting Student at Sciences Po)

Course validation

Each week a number of students will be required to submit a short summary of the week's reading (500 words [20%]) Oral presentation [20%] Final Paper (2000 words [50%]) Participation [10%]

Required reading

  • Beauvoir, S. d. (1949). Le deuxième sexe. Paris, Gallimard or Beauvoir, S. d. (2009 [1949]). The second sex. London, Jonathan Cape.
  • Butler, J. (1993). Bodies that matter: on the discursive limits of "sex". New York, Routledge
  • Lawson, T. (2015). A Conception of Social Ontology. In Social Ontology and Modern Economics. S. Pratten. London, Routledge: 19-52.
  • Sartre, J.-P. (1946). L'existentialisme est un humanisme. Paris, Nagel or Sartre, J.-P. (2007 [1946]). Existentialism is a humanism. New Haven, Yale University Press.
  • Searle, J. R. (2010). Making the social world: the structure of human civilization. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Additional required reading

  • Berger, P. L. and Luckmann, T. (1967). The social construction of reality: a treatise in the sociology of knowledge. London, Penguin.
  • Butler, J. (1999 [1990]). Gender trouble: feminism and the subversion of identity. New York, Routledge
  • Butler, J. (2004). Undoing gender. New York ; London, Routledge.
  • Elder-Vass, D. (2012). The Reality of Social Construction. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press
  • Lawson, T. (1997). Economics and reality. London ; New York, Routledge.
  • Lawson, T. (2007). Gender and Social Change. In The Future of Gender. J. Browne. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
  • Lawson, T. (2012). Ontology and the study of social reality: emergence, organisation, community, power, social relations, corporations, artefacts and money. Cambridge Journal of Economics 36(2): 345-385.
  • Lawson, T. (2015). The nature of the firm and peculiarities of the corporation. Cambridge Journal of Economics 39(1): 1-32.
  • Lawson, T. (2015). What is an Institution? In Social Ontology and Modern Economics, Routledge. S. Pratten. London, Routledge. 553-557
  • Lawson, T. (2016). Social positioning and the nature of money. Cambridge Journal of Economics 40(4): 961-996.
  • Sartre, J.-P. (1943). L'être et le néant, essai d'ontologie phénoménologique. Paris, Gallimard
  • Sartre, J.-P. (1960). Critique de la raison dialectique, précedé de Question de méthode. Paris, Gallimard
  • Searle, J. R. (1996). The construction of social reality. London, Penguin.
  • Searle, J. R. (2016). The Limits of Emergence: Reply to Tony Lawson. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 46(6): 400-412.