Ontology or 'Virtuology'? On the Nature of the Social

Monday, 11 July 2016: 14:30
Location: Hörsaal 32 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Rudi LAERMANS, Centre for Sociological Research, University of Leuven, Belgium
The much talked about 'ontological turn' in the social sciences risks to overlook the distinctive contributions of prominent sociologists such as Pierre Bourdieu and Niklas Luhmann to our understanding of sociality or the social. Although they unfold quite divergent approaches, both primarily conceptualize the social as 'a space of possibilities to act' (Bourdieu) or 'a space of possibilities to communicate' (Luhmann). Actions or communications are thus understood as the actualization of one possibility within a space that comprises in principle countless other alternatives but is at the same time structured on the basis of class and/or field positions (Bourdieu) or social expectations (Luhmann).

Partly inspired by the writings of Gilles Deleuze (particularly his notion of 'Matter') and those of Geiorgio Agamben (particulary his notion of potentiality), the presentation will give a more general twist to the basic intuition underlying the theories of Bourdieu and Luhmann. The social is not something that is given (Durkheim's social facts) but a virtual realm of potentialities to act together that is contingely ordered by both situational social structures (expectations) and the structured potentialities (habitus) of the participating individuals. Ontology is thus replaced by 'virtuology', or the axiom that everything that 'is' refers to both a virtual space of countless possibilities to act and the intermediating mechanisms that always confine but never determine, in the strict sense, the actualization of of these possibilities. The social therefore consists of 'everything that could happen', 'that which may be expected to happen', and 'that which happens'.