Reconciling the Discursive and the Material Dimensions of Social Stability and Social Change: A Critical Retheorisation and Non-syncretic Synthesis of Bhaskar, Foucault, and Althusser

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Hardy, Nicholas James
Aleatory materialism , British nuclear industry , Critical Realism , Emergence , Events , Extra-discursive , Louis Althusser , Michel Foucault , Roy Bhaskar , Social change
Sociological explanations for human conduct usually place major ontological and epistemological emphasis upon either discursive or material relations without ever establishing or adequately specifying the validity of this dichotomy. Early texts by the Critical Realist philosopher Roy Bhaskar address this forced separation by creating an integrated ontological and epistemological field that provides a more detailed and precise theoretical ordering to agents, objects, and entities. Undertaking a developmental critique of Bhaskar’s arguments, this thesis extends Critical Realism’s role as theoretical ‘underlabourer’ and creates an expanded theoretical framework that balances discursive and material accounts. Utilising the sophisticated analyses of the structure and operation of discourses found in the work of Michel Foucault alongside the innovative arguments for aleatory materialism developed by Louis Althusser, a critique is established that shows discursive, material, and social relations to be complex, immanent, and, importantly, mutually constitutive. In each theory three core concepts of events, emergence, and the extra-discursive are shown to not only be present but also to operate as the main means of explaining social change. The result of integrating Critical Realism, Foucault, and Althusser in this sympathetic but non-syncretic form is the generation of a non-reductionist materialism combined with discursive relations. On this basis, social change is shown to be the result of restructured discursive and material relations of which human agents are only one part. The thesis provides an illustration of the theoretical argument with an empirical component which examines the formation and decline of the British nuclear industry between its inception in the early 1950s to the year 2000. The conclusion is that the form taken by nuclear energy is not entirely determined by any single one of political, economic, or scientific forces but is, instead, the product of multiple and complex interactions of immanent discursive and material relations that are, importantly, mutually reinforcing.
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