The Sociological Imagination A daily dose of the Sociological Imagination Thu, 30 Oct 2014 13:40:15 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Graham Scambler on an interdisciplinary approach to the ‘structuring of agency’ – November 11th @SocioWarwick Thu, 30 Oct 2014 13:40:15 +0000 Read More ›]]> In the third Centre for Social Ontology seminar of 2014/15, Graham Scambler (Emeritus Professor of Medical Sociology at UCL) discusses reflexivity and an interdisciplinary approach to the ‘structuring of agency’:

Margaret Archer’s recent contributions to our understanding of reflexivity in late capitalist society provide useful resources for theorizing across the substantive domains of sociology. Using illustrations from my own work on the sociology health inequalities in general, and my ideal type of the ‘vulnerable fractured reflexive’ in particular, I examine some of the pros and cons of adopting an interdisciplinary approach to the structuring of agency. I conclude with a skeletal research programme involving interdisciplinary collaboration.

All welcome! The seminar will take place on November 11th, from 5pm to 6:30pm in S0.13 (Social Science Building) on the University of Warwick campus. See here for help getting to the campus. Feel free to contact Mark Carrigan with any questions.

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Using your blog as a research journal Thu, 30 Oct 2014 08:00:35 +0000

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Between interaction and intra-action Wed, 29 Oct 2014 08:00:21 +0000 Read More ›]]> The notion of ‘interaction’ is well understood. Interactions are part of our everyday life. Sometimes these interactions leave us thinking about them afterwards (“what did he mean when he said that?”, “why is she always like that?” etc) and sometimes this leaves us thinking about interaction in a second-order way (“why do I always feel so uncomfortable in situations like that?”).  In this sense, I’d argue that interaction and intra-action are intrinsically linked. Each impacts upon the other in manifold ways. We intra-act in response to our interactions and this shapes what we bring to subsequent interactions. However sociological conceptions of intra-action have tended to be rather deficient. Unfortunately these failings tend to be most pronounced amongst those who most acutely analyse interaction. For instance as Nicos Mouzelis writes in his critique of Hans Joas ,

If actors do not operate on the basis of rigidly set means-end schematic, if interactive situations constitute and constantly reformulate both means and ends, what sort of conceptual tools can make this obvious, and how are such tools linked to each other and to broader macro-sociological conceptualisations joas does not give us any answers here. Neither does he show how interaction is linked to intra-action – i.e. to the reflexive process, the internal conversations that constantly take place within the actor’s mind. In order to understand how interactions shape means and ends, it is necessary to see how an actor deals not only with other actors in interactive contexts but also with himself/herself.

Modern and Postmodern Social Theorizing, Pg 92

The risk in critiquing a deficient account of intra-action is that we lose the insights into situated interaction that theorists like Joas offer. I’m interested in the interface between interaction and intra-action: how situated encounters both shape and are shaped by the exercise of our reflexivity. In my PhD I’ve argued that if we compress interaction and intra-action too closely together, such that we fail to recognise the relative independence of actors from the situations in which they are (inter)acting, we will struggle to gain traction upon how interaction is related to inter-action and vice versa. I’m suggesting that theorists of the interaction situation focus on the T2-T3 shown in the diagram below – in doing so, they fail to account for how situated interaction has variable consequences for those party to it and how these ensuing changes effect what actors bring to subsequentsituated interactions. Rather than being concerned solely with situations, we should be interested in pathways into and out of situations and how interacting actors change in the process.

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Grayson Perry and The Ashford Hijab: White, Female & Muslim Tue, 28 Oct 2014 23:40:28 +0000 Read More ›]]>

#GraysonPerry Ashford Hijab by Grayson Perry Via @AnthonyDBowen

— Education Researcher (@educ_research) October 27, 2014

In October 2006, I interviewed a White British female Year 11 student who had researched Islam for eight months and then decided to convert to Islam. Alice’s parents were devout Christians, and she explained that they were not too pleased with her conversion to Islam, hoping it was merely a phase that teenagers go through. She had become interested in Islam as she had Muslim friends whose way of life she found intriguing, and thus, she began to read up about their religion. As she learned more about Islam, she felt a connection and found that many previously unanswered questions were being resolved. Therefore, she decided to convert to Islam. She decided to wear the hijab, which was a significant marker of her new identity. One of the reasons, she explained, was that because she was not born into the religion, she felt she had to prove her commitment to everyone around her. She found that her white non-Muslim school friends were supportive of her decision. Interestingly, none of her school teachers had directly asked her about her decision to convert to Islam. Since becoming a Muslim, she loved her Monday morning Religious Education (RE) lessons, as there were many devout Christian students in the class and she could argue her position with them in a “friendly debate”. Moreover, she enjoyed researching and learning about Islam in preparation for RE lessons.

Alice highlighted how her conversion to Islam gave her a sense of belonging, but at the same time she had become very aware of the ethnic and cultural heritage that other Muslims (born into Islam) can rely on. This act of converting to Islam had provided her with a symbolic space to belong, but it also made Alice aware of how sometimes she did not belong: “It puts a smile on my face when I see another white Muslim. I haven’t seen many of us”. She discussed changes since adopting this new identity:

“I’m thinking about every little thing I do…every little step I take. Is that haraam or halaal? Before when I do good things, I’ll do someone a favour or I’ll go out of my way to do something and I’ll be like “Yeah, that was alright”. But now I’ll be blessed for doing it as well. It’s more encouraging. I’ve been concentrating on doing a lot of better things. I used to get a joy out of threatening people…I used to feel my power…I wasn’t a bully, but I would talk harshly to people who were smaller than me. Whereas now I don’t. I feel like that’s not the way to do it”.

It is fascinating to learn about the complexities and nuances of such reflective identity work, and how it impacts upon Alice’s everyday life. She explains how she has essentially adopted a new internal framework of reference that values strong family bonds, modest dress and education.

Grayson Perry’s new exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery also presents a White British female convert to Islam. Who are you? depicts 14 modern day Britons and their complex identities. Kayleigh Khosravi, the subject of a silk screenprint with the title The Ashford Hijab, spent time with Grayson Perry in order for him to better understand her identity as a White Muslim convert.


Political and media rhetoric almost always focuses on how Islam is incompatible with Britishness, and how Muslims must work harder to integrate (often code for assimilate). What about White British Muslims? With the emergence of new identities of White British Muslims, more research is needed into the stories of converts to understand how they are able to position themselves as both British and Muslim, in order for us to develop discussions on what this means for modern multicultural Britain and the discourse of integration/assimilation.

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Preview of Book: Identity, Neoliberalism and Aspiration – Educating White Working-class Boys Tue, 28 Oct 2014 13:50:36 +0000 Read More ›]]> The issues surrounding boys ‘underachievement’ and raising standards have been at the centre of public debate in education over the last two decades. As part of the Routledge Research in Educational Equality and Diversity series, Identity, Neoliberalism and Aspiration: Educating White Working-class Boys (2015) by Dr Garth Stahl explores the phenomenon of boys’ disengagement and challenges the pathologization of working-class boys, both in the education system and in wider society. The research raises important questions around why this low-performing ethnic group continually underperforms? How do current educational practices contribute to their underperformance? What shapes their aspiration?

Identity, Neoliberalism and Aspiration: Educating White Working-class Boys will be of international relevance as the moral panic regarding the education of boys is a globalised one. While the boys’ crisis in education has been a priority in the last decade there have been few examples of careful investigative and research. The research is distinguished by close scrutiny of original empirical evidence and the focus on a highly vulnerable population. Qualitative research was conducted with 23 white working-class boys in their final years of compulsory schooling and explores their identities within school environments where quality education is rationed. In understanding aspirations, the work explores how the boys constitute themselves as valuable in schooling practices which consistently devalue them.

Key questions explored in the book:

What shapes the aspirations of these young men?

How do these young men comprehend their own disadvantage?

How do these boys make sense of expectations surrounding social mobility?

What factors contribute to them ‘buying into’ education or ‘buying out’ of education?

How does the system set them up to fail?

How is white working-class disaffection symptomatic of much larger issues in British education?

About the Author:

Dr Garth Stahl is a Lecturer in Literacy Education at University of South Australia and a researcher with the Hawke Research Institute. Previously, Garth lived and worked in London as a Teacher of English, Head of Sociology Department and consultant for nine years. Garth’s main research interests are: masculinities, Bourdieu, ethnography, urban education, educational inequalities (race, class, gender, etc), and applied sociology.

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CfP: On the Politics of Ugliness Tue, 28 Oct 2014 08:00:05 +0000 Read More ›]]> Anthology — Call for Submissions – On the Politics of Ugliness – deadline 15 January 2015

Ugliness is a pejorative marker for bodies, things, and feelings that fall beyond or outside the limits of acceptability. Ugliness has long been indirectly deployed in order to mark, collect, and exclude that which is determined to be aesthetically intolerable (Garland-Thomson; Grealy; Schweik), disgusting (Meagher), dirty (Douglas), abject (Kristeva), monstrous (Braidotti; Haraway; Rai & Puar; Schildrick; Sharpe), revolting (Lebesco), grotesque (Russo), or even simply plain and unaltered (Bartky; Bordo; Morgan; Wolf). While aesthetically ugliness has been positioned both against beauty and as a distinct category for art and art-making (Adorno; Ranciere), there has been little sustained engagement with the ways that ugliness operates alongside identities, bodies, intimacies, practices, and spaces (exceptions include Danticat; Kincaid; Athanassoglou-Kallmyer). Part of the reason for this absence might be that ugliness is at once too broad and too diffuse, serving, as art historian Nina Athanassoglou-Kallmyer has pointed out, as “an all-purpose repository for everything that [does] not quite fit,” a marker of “mundane reality, the irrational, evil, disorder, dissonance, irregularity, excess, deformity, the marginal” (281).

A repository for many socio-cultural feelings and attitudes, ugliness operates in ways that have dangerous and deadly consequences for bodies and those who inhabit them. When a body is labeled or understood as “ugly,” it is subsequently positioned as up for expunging, destruction, and affectively motivated terror (Fanon). For example, the “ugly laws” of late nineteenth and early twentieth  century America demonstrate the visceral discomfort that “ugly” bodies evoke, justifying their exclusion from public spaces on account of their “polluting” effects (Schweik). This demarcation of ugliness is inextricably bound with taken-for-granted ethical, epistemological, and ontological assumptions about the value of bodies. Further, ugliness is infused with dominant discourses of ability, race, heterosexuality, gender, body size, health, and age. At the level of ideas, relations and institutions, deployments of ugliness can have lethal effects on a body’s horizons and the possibilities for visibility, intimacy, and thick life.

On the Politics of Ugliness seeks to provide the first anthology that centralizes ugliness as a political category. It explores the various ways in which ugliness is deployed against those whose bodies, habits, gestures, feelings, expressions, or ways of being deviate from social norms. It argues that ugliness is politicalin at least two ways: (1) it denotes inequalities and hierarchies, often serving as a repository for all that is “other;” and (2) it is contingent and relational, taking shape through the comparison and evaluation of bodies. This collection asserts that it is only in facing ugliness as a political category that we can agitate routinely harmful ways of seeing, understanding and relating.

We are seeking an array of contributions that will center the politics of ugliness as it relates to bodies, feelings, gestures, habits, things, spaces, sounds, intimacies and their operations alongside ability, race, gender, class, sexuality, body size, age, health, or animality. Specifically, we invite submissions of academic papers; however, we will also consider art-based work, memoirs, cultural commentaries, and creative pieces (short stories, poetry, photo essays) from scholars, writers, and artists. We welcome approaches informed by (but not limited to) critical disability studies, critical [EP1]race and postcolonial studies, feminist theory, literary theory, art history, cultural studies, queer and sexuality studies, science and technology studies, critical psychology, environmental studies, musicology, and performance studies.

Submissions should engage with the politics of ugliness. Topics of inquiry may include:

–       interrogations of ugliness as violence against bodies

–       the ethics of engaging with ugliness

–       feminist explorations of ugliness, “ugly” engagements with feminism

–       ugly methodologies, reading practices, and modes of inquiry

–       representations of ugliness, “ugly” bodies, body parts, and “ugly” behaviors

–       phenomenological encounters with ugliness: feeling ugly, being “ugly,” embodying ugliness

–       ugly intimacies, feelings, and dispositions (e.g., Ngai; Sharpe)

–       genealogies, archives, temporalities, and histories of ugliness

–       the fashionizing of ugliness, ugly fashion

–       ugly development practices, environmental ugliness

–       visual, sensorial, and tactile pollution in relation to spaces and geographies

–       theoretical considerations of ugliness as a political category

–       reclamations and tactical repositionings of ugliness (e.g., Eileraas)

The deadline for chapter proposals (maximum of 500 words) is 15 January 2015. Please forward proposals or questions to Ela Przybylo ( and Sara Rodrigues ( with the subject heading “On the Politics of Ugliness.”

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The unavoidability of sociological theory Mon, 27 Oct 2014 08:00:33 +0000 Read More ›]]> There’s an important way in which sociological theory is unavoidable. I mean this in the sense in which Alexander describes the problems of action and order as non-optional: “every theory takes some position on both” (Alexander 1987: 12). This is an empirical statement about sociological practice as much as anything else. Against those who dismiss ‘general theory’ as unnecessary, I’d argue that the sorts of questions encompassed by it inevitably emerge in any kind of sociological reasoning – to talk of a general problem of order is simply to affirm the (potential) value of our treating those questions we can’t avoid in a reflective and systematic way.

If we assume there are patterns to social life susceptible to explanation then we are necessarily committed, however inchoately, to a view of these patterns as having some ontological status. The possibility of a pattern presumes a distinction between identifiable regularities and some broader sum of activity in relation to which the regularity is (potentially) identifiable. This distinction in turn invites questions of the relationship between the former and the latter: how does (identifiable) order emerge out of (observable) activity? Once we ask this question, we’re effectively talking about structure and agency. This doesn’t commit us to any one understanding of ‘structure’, ‘agency’ or the relationship between them. But it does leave us within the space of questions which the discourse of structure and agency attempts to treat systematically. The notion of a ‘space of questions’ I’m invoking doesn’t imply deterministic constraints. It creates openings to escape the space of questions by seeking to transcend the dichotomies encountered e.g. both Bourdieu and Giddens seek to do this in different ways. We can find alternative ways to characterize the space of questions. What I think of as structure and agency seems to be seen by Jeffrey Alexander in the 1980s as two related questions: the problem of order and theproblem of action.

On my understanding, sociological theory should be concerned with the systematic elaboration of this space of questions with a view to the amelioration of problems that impede empirical research and the construction of conceptual tools which contribute to it. This entails ‘translation’ work in order to bring divergent perspectives into dialogue with each other. It invites empirical work looking at how theoretical ideas are applied in practice and their contributions (or lack thereof) to empirical research. It invites conceptual work to establish meta-evaluative criteria upon which to establish what constitutes a contribution to sociological theory and what does not.

In essence I’m arguing for the unavoidability of sociological theory on praxeological grounds. I’m suggesting that certain presuppositional categories are intrinsic to sociological practice as a purposive activity orientated towards particular classes of objects. As Alexander puts it, “the real world puts terribly strict limits on our theorizing” (Alexander 1987: 5). We encounter these ‘limits’ through purposive activity of a very particular sort and I’m interested in how the activities which I’m subsuming under the category of ‘sociological practice’ mediate our encounter with these limits on theorizing. I share Alexander’s view that theoretical reasoning has “relative autonomy” in relation to the real world but I want to understand in a much more substantive way how relative it is. My underlying claim is that the theoretical constructs I’m invoking (‘structure and agency’, ‘the problem of order’, ‘ the problem of action’ etc) are systematic articulations of issues raised by a practical engagement with the social world motivated by specific purposes. We are drawn to take positions and/or make assumptions on these issues as a necessary condition of sociological practice. So why not try to do this systematically?

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The Mobile Apps in Research Summit 2014 Sun, 26 Oct 2014 08:00:05 +0000 Read More ›]]> On December 4th 2014 The University of Birmingham will be hosting the second Mobile Apps in Research Summit. We are excited to announce that delegate registration is now open.

This year’s Summit includes some discussion-based workshop sessions, by popular demand, as well as presentations, panels and networking.



Panel: Supporting apps in research – what UK universities need to do

Workshop Sessions: delegates may attend either A or B

–               Session A: When is an app the right thing for your research?

–               Session B: Designing data gathering apps

Workshop Sessions: delegates may attend either C or D

–               Session C: Can research apps be commercialised?

–               Session D: Make an impact – evaluating your app in the real world

Panel: The Future of Mobile Apps: Ubiquitous apps, appcessories, and the Internet of Things

Closing session: shaping the Mobile Apps in Research Summit 2015

There will also be a networking lunch with the chance to meet developers who have experience in creating mobile apps based in academic research. There’s an increased focus on outputs this year, including responses and solutions from the workshops, partnerships for collaboration, and consultation on the future of the Summit for 2015.

For the full programme and to register visit our website Tickets cost £15 including lunch. Follow us on Twitter for updates @appsinresearch.

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Call for Papers: Feminism, Activism, Education Sat, 25 Oct 2014 07:00:29 +0000 Read More ›]]> Call for Papers

If not now, when? Feminism in contemporary activist, social and educational contexts

Political and socio-economic developments in recent years have created new opportunities and new battlegrounds for feminism, with women taking to the streets and demonstrating against the status quo, corruption, sexism, austerity and capitalism. On February 13th2011,

demonstrations took place in various Italian cities, with over a million participants in total. They were coordinated by the feminist coalition Se Non Ora Quando? (If not now, when?). The demonstrations voiced the urgent need to reassert women’s dignity and renewed faith in the effectiveness of a popular feminist movement.

There seems to be a pervasive optimism that feminism is now entering a new era, as evidence from different countries seems to suggest. At the same time, it is said that the advance of neoliberalism and the indisputable gains of feminism in the last thirty years have resulted in de-politicisation and a decline of interest in feminism. The mainstreaming of feminism has also raised concerns about its independent and autonomous existence.

‘If not now, when?’ invites potential contributors to consider the present moment of feminism and the presence of feminism on the streets and in mainstream society. It is seeking both theoretically informed and more empirical contributions on feminist endeavours, the strategies they employ and the values they uphold, the lessons learnt, and the new or emerging debates and challenges. In the context of a broadly defined feminist education, ‘If not now, when?’ also wishes to explore the pedagogical aspect of contemporary feminism, as well as testimonies of politicisation and mobilisation relevant to the formation of a feminist consciousness, especially in higher education.

Further, and focusing on the present, it invites contributions on the theoretical ideas that are most relevant for feminism today. We are particularly interested in the notion of timeliness or kairos, the right time for something to happen as opposed to chronos or linear time. This temporal aspect of the contemporary feminism needs to be analysed and fully understood in the light of debates over the future of democracy, the welfare state, neoliberalism and globalisation. As evidence from the ‘periphery’ of Europe and the Mediterranean show that feminists decide to take to the streets again, we particularly welcome contributions that speak about the present and recent past of feminism in that part of the world, especially in the light of the significant political, social and economic changes in the region.

Contributions might address the following topics:

  • Feminist alternatives to patriarchy and neoliberalism: contemporary strategies, theoretical ideas and practices;
  • Feminism in the academia and beyond: reflections on the past, emerging issues in the present, pedagogical prospects;
  • Contemporary feminist activism in the South of Europe and beyond: what do know, what do we learn?
  • Feminism, ethical values and the role of the individual;
  • Feminism and the idea time and timeliness (Kairos);
  • Is feminism still transformative or has it become too mainstream and confluent with dominant politics?
  • How could the insight, issues and strategies of popular movements be transformed into permanent advantages for feminism?
  • How does academic feminism respond to ideological, political and cultural demands outside the academia?

350-500 word abstracts are due by 1st December 2014.

Proposals should be for original works not previously published (including in conference proceedings) and that are not currently under consideration for another journal or edited collection. If your proposal is accepted for the special issue, a full draft (5000-7000 words) will be required by June 2015. Editors are happy to discuss ideas prior to the deadline.

Proposals should be sent to:

Olivia Guaraldo, University of Verona, Italy and

Angela Voela, University of East London, UK

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Four concepts of social structure Fri, 24 Oct 2014 07:00:53 +0000 Read More ›]]> The concept of ‘social structure’ is central to sociological inquiry yet there is little agreement about what it means. This matters because social explanation hinges on what we take ‘structure’ to be and a lack of ubiquity about the term helps fuel the disagreements and confusions which are already rife within sociological theory. In a paper from 1989 Doug Porpora identifies the four most prominent uses of the concept:

I. Patterns of aggregate behavior that are stable over time
2. Lawlike regularities that govern the behavior of social facts
3. Systems of human relationships among social positions
4. Collective rules and resources that structure behavior

The first use tends to be associated with individualists concerned to explain how social patterns arise aggregatively from individual behaviour. The second use tends to be associated with holists concerned with social facts and the properties of collectivities. The third use is most frequently associated with Marxism and network theorists (for different reasons) with their respective concerns for the causal power of social relations. The fourth use has often been associated with symbolic interactionists, as well as the structurationist theory of Anthony Giddens.

Another way of considering the different uses of ‘social structure’ is offered by Dave Elder-Vass. He argues that a notion of structure as an emergent feature of social wholes can contribute to existing understandings of structure within sociological theory:

This paper engages with the long running debate on social structure, using Lopez and Scott’s typology of social structure as a starting point (Lopez and Scott 2000). In their useful summary of this debate, they have portrayed the history of this concept as a dialogue between two different concepts or facets of structure, both with roots in Durkheim. On the one hand, institutional structure is comprised by the cultural or normative expectations that guide agents’ relations with each other. On the other, relational structure is composed of the social relations themselves – causal interconnections and interdependences between agents. More recently, a third facet has come to the fore: embodied structure, and Lopez and Scott suggest that embodied structure can play a key role in reconciling and integrating the earlier institutional and relational views.

Institutional structure include macro phenomena (e.g. property, employment, marriage) and micro phenomena (e.g. queuing, turn taking, gift giving). In both cases, institutions serve to regulate interaction by conditioning the reciprocal expectations of actors. Relational structure encompass the relations between roles (e.g. teacher/students, employer/employee) and between concrete individuals. With regards to the latter, we can find a weak sense of relation found in someone like Crossley (a relation is a past history and expectation of future interaction between A and B) and a strong sense found in Donati and Archer (a relation is an emergent property of interaction, producing relational goods/evils, which can only be experienced through participation in that relation). I think Crossley’s sense is congruent with network theory but I’m not certain. Embodied structure is a notion found in theorists like Giddens, Bourdieu and Foucault (in different ways) and concerns the way in which structure ‘gets inside’ actors. It sees social conditions as inculcating behavioural dispositions with consequences for those conditions. In someone like Bourdieu there’s an extremely sophisticated sense of those conditions, which leaves embodied structure as a mechanism through which relational structure gets transformed or reproduced.

In his paper Dave Elder-Vass in concerned to integrate these notions of structure into an account of social wholes. The idea here is that wholes have powers in virtue of the arrangement of their parts:

Let me illustrate the point with one simple example from the natural world. Dogs usually have the emergent power to bark (the property of being able to bark). The dog’s vocal cords, windpipe, lungs, mouth, and brain are all required to make this happen, but none of these parts, or even all of them linked together, would have the power to bark if they were not organized (along with its other parts) into the anatomical relations required to form them into a living dog. We could explain how these parts, combined in this way, generate the power to bark, but this does not take away the fact that this power can only be possessed by a whole living dog, and not by the parts as such.

However understanding how this can be so necessitates that we address the underlying ambiguity in the word structure, as a feature of lay discourse, which compounds the higher level confusions surrounding it as a concept in sociological theory:

These arise from the ‘persistent ambiguity’ in the meaning of structure identified by Raymond Williams (Crothers 2002: 7; Williams 1976: 253). As Williams explains, the word originally referred to the process of building, but:

The word was notably developed in C17, in two main directions: (i) towards the whole product of building, as still in ‘a wooden structure’; (ii) towards the manner of construction, not only in buildings but in extended and figurative applications. (Williams 1976: 253)

It is clear from the history of structure and structural that the words can be used with either emphasis: to include the actual construction with special reference to its mode of construction; or to isolate the mode of construction in such a way as to exclude both ends of the process – the producers . . . and the product, in its substantive sense. (Williams 1976: 257)

In other words, the label structure can be used to refer to different structural elements. It can, for example, refer to a whole entity that is structured by the relations between its parts ((i) in Williams), which I shall call structure-as- whole, or it can refer to the way that a group of things (generally the parts of a whole) is related to each other ((ii) in Williams), which I shall call structure- as-relations.

It’s in this sense of structure-as-whole that we can conceive of wholes as having powers in virtue of the arrangement of their parts.

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