Towards a Processual Understanding of Action and Actors

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 10:30
Oral Presentation
Gregor BONGAERTS, University Duisburg-Essen, Germany
A fundamental problem of relational and processual social theory is to develop a proper understanding of the phenomena, which are treated as relations, and of the entities between which those relations take place. Processual thinking forces sociologists to conceptualize the relations and the related entities as processual phenomena. Regarding sociological theory in general, actors are understood as the entities in question and actions either are treated as relations themselves (e.g. interactionism) or are treated as the structured activities which create relations understood as social structures (e.g. Bourdieu; Giddens) (classes, systems etc.). Most theoretical approaches conceptualize action as process, but get stuck to a rather substantialistic concept of actors. An exception can be found in ethnomethodological thinking, which – like Sharrock and Button – conceptualizes actors as “courses of treatment” (1991). However, as well as in other approaches, ethnomethodology lacks a theoretical concept, what exactly “courses of treatment” means. It is theoretically unsatisfactory to shift the problem of a concept of “social actor” into the empirically observable social reality instead of developing a theoretical framework for such a concept. Such a framework is also necessary regarding the concepts of action. Although action is in general understood as a process, the concept is mostly still ‘substantialistic’, because it is deduced from the concept of the social actor. For example, actions are understood as things actors do on basis of intentions (Weber), habitus (Bourdieu) or the memory and orientation (Giddens) etc.

Within my contribution, I will argue for a radical processual conceptualiziation of both, social actors and actions. What is treated as social actor and as action is, in this understanding, the result of processes of attributions of actors and actions. Social actors and actions therefore will be understood as Points of attribution in the course of observable processes of sign mediated communication.