Been travelling in Zambia and took Alistair Mutch with me. I’d read his article “Constraints on the Internal Conversation: Margaret Archer and The Structural Shaping of Thought” when preparing my proposal but had written a note to myself to read it again. I read it another 3 times. There’s a lot packed in there, from Bourdieu to Bernstein and the huge space and debates in between Structure and Agency. It seems once there’s a dichotomy of any kind it’s near impossible to re-integrate. Tension is inherent in the human experience! The philosophical pendulum swings through eliding (Giddens), dissolving (Bernstein), and upholding (Archer) the distinction between structure and agency.
Again, it seems the biggest critique of Margaret Archer is that she does not place enough emphasis on structure. Mutch also points out that Bourdieu gives “…no description of its [habitus] particular formation”. It seems Mutch, similarily ‘accuses’ Archer of ‘leaving things out’. So where does the conversation begin and how do the debates reconcile the tension between structure and agency?
The distinction between the two is ‘central to critical realism’ and the tension between them is addressed through reflexivity. Reflexivity is a key concept in Archer’s Internal Conversation, but, Layder argues for a balanced “…appreciation of the sense in which the human being continuously operates at the edges of the requirements of the social world”. (cited in Mutch, p431).
The more I remember what I read in the article, the more I realise how much Mutch managed to pack in there. I’ve written notes in the pages. For example, I was reading it during the US Presidential elections and almost as the election results were announced I read the following sentence in particular:
“ The emphasis once again, is on the creative role of the person with their ability to pursue personal projects and to use emergent powers of reflexivity to pursue such projects in the context of the enduring and objective social properties.” (p435) I thought of Barack Obama and how he epitomises the sentiments of the statement. When I continued my reading, Mutch follows by stating that ‘structural factors shape the conversations that we can have and so place limits on the projects that we can pursue at source”.
So is that why Jesse Jackson did not succeed in his attempt to become the US first black President, because the prevailing political and social climate impeded his ability to achieve his ‘ultimate concern’. I don’t believe that was the case, I think the notion that structure blocks us/impedes us must be dissovling.
Barack Obama’s victory is surely an example of how Agency and their creativity can indeed change structure?
As for the story. Polo uses the “I can’t do anything because of…” a lot to escape the reality, and responsibility, of his own power to achieve his goals. Banu, the Albatross, is a perfect metaphor for Archer’s meta-reflexive and indeed the power and ability of Agency to impact Structure.
I’m going to read Mutch again!