The Causal Power of Social Structures

Emergence, Structure and Agency

The Causal Power of Social Structures

The problem of structure and agency has been the subject of intense debate in the social sciences for over a hundred years. This book offers a new solution. Using a critical realist version of the theory of emergence, Dave Elder-Vass argues that instead of ascribing causal significance to an abstract notion of social structure or a monolithic concept of society, we must recognise that it is specific groups of people that have social structural power. Some of these groups are entities with emergent causal powers, distinct from those of human individuals. Yet these powers also depend on the contributions of human individuals, and this book examines the mechanisms through which interactions between human individuals generate the causal powers of some types of social structures. The Causal Power of Social Structures makes particularly important contributions to the theory of human agency and to our understanding of normative institutions.


"Dave Elder-Vass has written a book of exceptionally clarity in defence of realist ontology with an unusual generosity of examples. His 'relational theory of emergence' is so restrained that philosophical opponents will find it hard to rebutt; whether his notion of 'relationality' is sufficiently rich may provoke more debate amongst sociologists." - Margaret S. Archer, Professor of Sociology, University of Warwick

'The Causal Power of Social Structures is a well-written and conceptually clear analysis of the central question of critical realism and a realist approach. Elder-Vass presents many concrete examples from daily life, which help to explain the abstract theoretical consideration in a more concrete way … His book clearly shows the meaning of detailed ontological analysis for social theory and the social sciences.' Pekka Kuusela, Organization Studies

'Dave Elder-Vass has written a very useful book … the single most valuable feature … is that it begins with all three of the assumptions in place that are necessary for clear-cut debate regarding whether or not social structures can do things …' Ruth Porter Groff, Metascience