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The Social Construction of Reductionist Thought and Practice

Bruce Kapferer

The argument I present here is that the ‘retreat’ in the social sciences from concepts of the social and society (and their reformulation in other terms) is intimately connected to an intensification of reductionist thought and practice. But this, as I will explain, is not merely a feature of the social sciences (where reductionist argument appears to play an increasing role). It could almost be described as a movement (a social movement?) extending well beyond the human and social sciences where the public at large, as it were, is not only being more exposed to non-social even anti-social arguments of a reductionist kind, but appears to be actively accepting and desirous of them. The idea of the social as integral to understanding is being bypassed or, if it is maintained as a key point of reference, emptied of much of the import it once had. The social has become a vacated category. Thus, there is often a shift away from a concern with social relational and interactive structures, as well as institutional and organizational formations. The complexities of their internal dynamics, their structurating processes, and the forces of their effects on human action within and beyond them have increasingly been neglected in the social sciences.


Kapferer, Bruce - University of Bergen