How do mechanisms’ ‘tendency’ within critical realism influence our understanding of structure-agency relations?

Saeed Moghadam-Saman

Research output: Working paper

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The paper aims to contribute to the literature on the relation between human agency and social structure, where the issue of primacy of either of them over the other, is closely affected by our understanding of the ‘causation’ mechanism. By taking critical realism’s very specific position regarding the ontology of causation, which centers around the concept of ‘tendency’, stemming from a distinction made between the real and the actual causal power, a new approach in theorizing about the agency-structure relations is sought in the paper. After a concise overview of the major scholarly positions regarding the agency-structure relations, the prominent approaches taken by key figures in the critical realism tradition concerning the same issue are presented. It is argued that, similar to the dialectical approaches, the agency-structure relations in the critical realism accounts are perceived to be mutually constituted. Nevertheless, it is shown that in the explanatory accounts on critical realism, there exist different levels of emphasis on the role of agents vis-à-vis the structures from which originate the causal mechanisms. Finally, and given the recognition of multiplicity of structures co-determining the actualization of causal powers underlying social phenomena (events) within the critical realist accounts, the paper concludes with suggesting a new concept, namely ‘emergent-tendencies’, for better understanding of agency-structure relations.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationEnschede
PublisherCenter for Higher Education Policy Studies
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameRUNIN Working Paper Series
ISSN (Electronic)2535-5686


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