Thinking aloud (allowed)
Some of the theories that are (in)forming my thinking are Critical Realism (Baskhar and Archer); ontological and explanatory emergence (philosophy of mind and sociology); and structuration theory (Giddens, and others that Margaret Archer critiques, eg. methodological individualists, such as Rom Harre).
None of it is clear in my head at all because I simply haven’t read enough, BUT, one thing that is crystallising in my mind is the controversy over what might constitute the (necessary and sufficient) conditions for something to count as ‘real’. This ontological anxiety seems to consistently run through sociological theory as it tries to define and differentiate itself from the physical sciences (although quantum science seems to befit sociological explanations, as argued recently by Alex Wendt).
I was coming to the neat conclusion that what counts as ‘real’ in emergence theory and epiphenomenal accounts of reality is the effect that something has on something else. So, for example, ‘racism’ or ‘inflation’ are real not because we can see, touch, quantify or smell them, but because of the tangible effects or causes that these social phenomena have: racism, which is an attitude or behaviour that cannot be located anywhere specific or physical, causes people to be afraid or to act aggressively (in turn, that ‘fear’ is also real because it triggers other forms of (in)action); inflation, which is a rate of increase which cannot be located in anything tangible, causes people to spend more or less. Each are ‘real’ in that they have ‘consequences’. This is akin to saying that Pluto, the (dwarf) planet, exists, not because anybody has actually observed it, but because of the gravitational and mathematical effects it generates, leading (causing) astrophysicists to believe that there is ‘something’ occupying the space which they are calling ‘Pluto’.
I am trying to establish the reality of an ‘academic’ property in the texts we produce and I find this a challenge because what counts as ‘academic’ varies significantly across contexts and audiences. In this sense, ”academicness’, understood as a property of a text, is contested knowledge because it is not uncontroversially locatable – it cannot, for instance, be reduced to any physical-textual property – and it has different effects on people/institutions, i.e. supervisors and institutions accommodate variety in what counts as ‘academic output/product’ (See for instance the recent award-winning dissertation of Nick Sousanis).
On a realist account, what would count as ‘academic’ is the ‘effect or cause’ that a text has on others … which would mean what? If I read something that makes me behave ‘academically’, does that make the cause of my behaviour ‘academic’? Wouldn’t this open up the possibility for anything to be ‘academic’? And would this, therefore, explain why Nick Sousanis’s work is academic?
The argument that ‘for something to be real it must have an effect’ also opens up an argument for God to be real: basically, ‘God’ – or whatever deity or other belief- is real IFF it causes people to believe in its reality.
Is this what I want to say?
What is the flaw in this argument?
Thoughts most welcome!