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Cambridge Social Ontology: developing a theory of social positioning

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

In this thesis, I provide an account of the most recent advances made by Tony Lawson and the Cambridge Social Ontology Group in the study of socio-philosophical ontology. Whilst interconnected, socio-philosophical ontology focuses on the nature and basic structure of all social phenomena whereas socio-scientific ontology studies the natures of specific social existents. In the last five years, a number of key contributions focussing on socio-scientific ontology—exploring, in particular, the natures of the corporation and money—have emphasised social positioning as being everywhere involved in the constitution of social phenomena. Although Lawson has provided a number of detailed accounts of sociophilosophical ontology over the last decade, these do not situate social positioning as being the central constitutive process through which social phenomena come into being. In this dissertation, I provide a detailed account of socio-philosophical ontology specifically in terms of social positioning.

I do so by ‘working forwards’ from the general features of the constitution of all phenomena, both social and non-social, to the principles involved in the constitution of social phenomena and finally, to considering examples of the different types of phenomena involved in the constitution of social reality. In chapter one, I emphasise the importance of organisation to the constitution of all phenomena, both social and non-social. In chapter two, I set out and discuss the principles associated with the social positioning process. In chapter three, I consider different types of phenomena that get positioned—non-human objects, including artefacts and non-social phenomena, human beings and whole communities. I demonstrate that this theory of social positioning constitutes an explanatorily powerful conception of sociophilosophical ontology and provides a possible alternative framework to the existing dominant approaches in social ontology.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date1 Jan 2020

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