Critical Realism Conference

The Department of Sociology has successfully bid for the holding of the prestigious Annual International Conference of the International Association for Critical Realism, to be held at Rhodes University in 2012. It will be co-sponsored with the Faculty of Education at Rhodes.

Two of today’s great intellectual thinkers fall broadly within the Critical Realist school of thought, namely, Roy Bhaskar and Margaret Archer. Both will be in attendance at the 2012 Conference. Critical Realism has had important impacts within, amongst other fields, Social Theory, Industrial/Economic Sociology and Education. The Faculty of Education at Rhodes is strongly influenced by the work of Margaret Archer, and the Department of Sociology covers Archer’s work at third year level and Bhaskar’s work at honours level.

Margaret Archer is currently at Warwick University in England. On her website, she indicates that:

Three strands of interest integrate my research and publications: the comparative and historical development of social institutions, constitutive of ‘social structure’; the elaboration of my ‘Morphogenetic Approach’ as a theoretical framework for practical use in substantive institutional investigations; and the prospects for the transformation of late Modernity into a fully morphogenetic global society.

My interest in comparative (European) institutions began as a post-doctoral student at the Sorbonne, culminating in Social Origins of Educational Systems (1979). Its 800 pages sought to explain the emergence of centralized State education in France and Russia compared with decentralized systems in England and Denmark and their consequences for subsequent processes and patterns of educational change.
Social Origins represented a preliminary version of my ‘Morphogenetic Approach’, both in theoretical terms and as an explanatory framework for analysing the reproduction and transformation of social institutions in general. It resulted in: an enduring involvement in contemporary social theory and a sustained critique of theories that conflated ‘structure’ and ‘agency’: whether this was by ‘downwards conflation’ (normative functionalism and structuralist Marxism); ‘upwards conflation’ (see Rational Choice Theory: Resisting Colonization); or, especially, by ‘central conflation’ as in Anthony Giddens’ Structuration theory.
This generated an interest in Critical Realism as a non-conflationary approach, given its stratified social ontology (Realist Social Theory: the Morphogenetic Approach 1995);
And a preoccupation with the need to re-conceptualise key sociological concepts in order to refine the Morphogenetic Approach, namely, ‘structure’, ‘culture’, ‘agency’ and the relations between them. Hence my key books: on culture, Culture and Agency (1988); on structure, Realist Social Theory (1995); and on agency, Being Human: the Problem of Agency (2000).
My latest books examine the relationship between them and advance ‘Reflexivity’ – the Internal Conversation – as agentially mediating cultural and structural influences. This was first introduced in Structure, Agency and the Internal Conversation (2003), continued in Making our Way through the World: Human Reflexivity and Social Mobility (2007) and the triad will be completed by The Reflexive Imperative, currently in progress.
My research now aims to link-up to the macro-institutional level, via the Voluntary Sector, social movements and cyber-networks. Specifically, in my current work, The Reflexive Imperative, I am beginning to analyse the novel configuration of relations between State, Market and Third Sector as the tense institutional balance of late (European) Modernity – and its prospects, which will complete my research trajectory over the next decade.

’‘The website notes the following about Bhaskar:

Roy Bhaskar was lecturer in economics, Pembroke College, Oxford, 1967–1973, Research Officer, Oxford University Institute of Economics and Statistics, 1970–1971, Research fellow in philosophy, Linacre College, Oxford, 1971-73, Lecturer in philosophy, University of Edinburgh, 1973–1982. By 1982 Roy was already recognized as the originator and leader of a new school of philosophy, critical realism. His books were soon to have a widespread international and interdisciplinary impact.
Since 1982 he has taught and lectured on philosophy and adjacent subjects, especially sociology, in universities and institutes of higher education throughout the world. In the early 1980s he had helped to inaugurate an annual series of international conferences on critical realism, called “Realism and the Human Sciences”. From the mid 1980s he was increasingly concerning himself with the establishment of critical realism and its development. And eventually in 1994 he resigned from full-time teaching to concentrate on setting up the Centre for Critical Realism (CCR), a registered UK charity, which subsequently generated an open-membership body, the International Association of Critical Realism (IACR). The CCR also has its own book series, “Critical Realism: Interventions,” which is published by Routledge, which also publishes two other series focused on critical realism, including a new one, entitled “New Studies in Social Ontology”, which Roy also edits. The Centre also has its own journal: the peer-reviewed Journal of Critical Realism.
A founding trustee and chair of the Centre for Critical Realism, from February 2000 he has been its Patron. Since September 2000, he has been engaged in worldwide lecture and workshop tours. He was invited by the government of India to give the Radhakrishnan Lectures on Comparative Religion and Spirituality in Kolkata (Calcutta) in 2002, where he was introducing the next step of unfolding of his approach called Philosophy of meta-Reality. Accordingly, in August 2002 he set up the Meta-Reality Foundation.
In September 2003 Roy took up a fellowship at the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study in the Social Sciences (SCASSS), from where his work assumed a more concrete and sociological form, while retaining its transformist and emancipatory commitment. In August 2004 he accepted an appointment as Adjunct Professor in the Philosophy of Peace at the Centre for Peace Studies, University of Tromsø, Norway. He is at present very concerned with concrete issues of interdisciplinary research, in the general field of applied social science. In April 2005 he became Guest Professor in Philosophy and Sociology in the Department of Health at Örebro University.
A concern with education has long been central to the vision of critical realism; and there is now growing worldwide explicit critical realist activity on education in the more specific sense. In this context Roy has accepted an appointment as World Scholar at the University of London Institute of Education, where he is concerned, since 2007, to establish a new international centre for advanced critical realist studies in and for education.

Last Modified: Wed, 27 Feb 2013 09:34:36 SAST

Visiting Theorists of Emancipation

John Holloway is visiting the Department of Sociology for four weeks during the fourth term. He is a Mellon Senior Scholar who is visiting the university under the Mellon Senior Scholar - Next Generation Programme run by the university's Research Office.

Professor Holloway is undoubtedly one of the great contemporary thinkers on social emancipation. In this regard, he has been strongly influenced by the practices of the Zapatistas in Mexico.
His most recent book is Crack Capitalism (2010).

John Holloway

John Holloway (born 1947) is a lawyer, Marxist-oriented sociologist and philosopher, whose work is closely associated with the Zapatista movement in Mexico, his home since 1991. It has also been taken up by some intellectuals associated with the piqueteros in Argentina; Abahlali baseMjondolo movement in South Africa and the Anti-Globalization Movement in Europe and North America. He is currently a teacher at the Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences at the Autonomous University of Puebla.
During the 1970s, Holloway was an influential member of the Conference of Socialist Economists, particularly in his support of an approach to the state as a social form constituted ultimately by the contradictory relations of class struggle between capital and working class. This approach was developed primarily through the critical appropriation of aspects of the German state derivation debate of the early 70s, in particular the work of Joachim Hirsch, and led to the publication of "State and Capital: A Marxist Debate" an anthology of texts from the German debate with a critical introduction, in collaboration with Sol Piccioto. Around this conception of state, social form and class struggle, a particular current developed within the Conference of Socialist Economists from which the Open Marxism school of thought ultimately emerged, and in which Holloway remained a significant participant. This current is typified by its rejection of both traditional Marxist ideas of State monopoly capitalism and more recent innovations such as Poulantzas' Althusserian state theory, and the Regulation School, and an affirmation of the centrality of the class relation between capital and working class, conceived as a relation of struggle.
His 2002 book, Change the World Without Taking Power, has been the subject of much debate in Marxist, anarchist and anti-capitalist circles, and contends that the possibility of revolution resides not in the seizure of state apparatuses, but in day-to-day acts of abject refusal of capitalist society – so-called anti-power, or 'the scream' as he puts it repeatedly. Holloway's thesis has been analysed by thinkers like Tariq Ali and Slavoj Žižek. Holloway is considered by supporters and critics to be broadly Autonomist in outlook, and his work is often compared and contrasted with that of figures such as Antonio Negri.

Last Modified: Wed, 27 Feb 2013 09:34:02 SAST

Original Call for Expressions of Interest



Announcing the 'Politics at a Distance from the State' Conference



Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa

 29th-30th September 2012


The conference is intended as a space at which academics and activists sympathetic to, supportive of, or involved in ‘politics at a distance from the state’ can openly and freely explore, discuss and debate this idea and form of politics. The conference arose in the light of the visit later this year to Rhodes University by John Holloway and Jacques Depelchin, both of whom will be in attendance at the conference. The conference seeks to consider anti-statist politics in South Africa and beyond.


Political practices in South Africa, since the end of Apartheid, have been dominated by state-centric forms of politics under the hegemony of the African National Congress (ANC). Although state-centred struggle and the capturing of state power were embedded – as important trajectories – within the anti-Apartheid organizations of the 1970s and 1980s, there was also a pronounced anti-statist tendency that sought to build alternative forms of communality in a pre-figurative way. Of significance in this regard was the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM), the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Black trade union movement. In large part, with the de-mobilization of anti-Apartheid struggles in the 1990s and a technocratic, neo-liberalising programme pursued vigorously by the ANC state since 1994, anti-statist politics in contemporary South Africa are heavily compromised and marginalised. This form of politics is also rarely discussed within academia. The conference, in its South African focus, seeks to revisit the struggles of the 1970s and 1980s and, in so doing, to identify and articulate the anti-statist moments inherent in them. Activists centrally involved in the BCM, UDF and trade union movement will be present to facilitate and contribute to these discussions. The three leading academics in South Africa who presently think and theorise about politics at a distance from the state will also be in attendance, namely, Michael Neocosmos, Richard Pithouse and Lucien van der Walt (co-author of Black Flame, 2009). As well, community activists and groups in South Africa supportive of and pursuing ‘at a distance’ politics, such as the shack-dweller movement Abahlali baseMjondolo, will be present.


The conference seeks to locate South African politics in broader, more global, debates and activism. Academically, John Holloway’s book Change the World without Taking Power (2002) ignited an intense debate a decade ago about emancipatory politics and change; this work though spoke directly to the lived experiences and everyday politics of the Zapatista movement in southern Mexico. His overall critique of state-centred change is not an entirely new argument but his Autonomist Marxist perspective is certainly rich in nuanced insights about the prospects for interstitial revolution today. Jacques Depelchin, the highly esteemed Congolese historian, has – with Ernest Wamba-dia-Wamba – tried to rethink politics in the Congo in Africa. The critique of state-centric emancipation has deep roots in Anarchist theory (and practice), and reaches back to the debates between Marx and Bakhunin. Over the last few decades, post-Anarchism (as a ‘fusion’ of Anarchism and post-Structuralism) has emerged (for instance the works of Richard Day), claiming that many of the localized struggles taking place globally have anarchistic principles (such as pre-figuration) embedded within them. Simultaneously, a range of other (often older, ex-Marxist) scholars – in the ongoing light of the worker/student struggles of Paris ‘68 – have constantly highlighted the significance of anti-statist politics (beyond ‘the political’) for authentic emancipatory processes. Of particular importance in this regard are Jacques Ranciere and Alain Baidou – it is from the latter that the title for the conference is taken.


Crucial differences exist between the different theoretical and political tendencies highlighted above. But they all share a common interest in questioning emancipation in and through the state, and in exploring the possibilities and actualities of a lived immanent politics (some call it a living communism) taking place in the interstices of the current capitalist and hierarchical order. It is these shared interests that form of the basis for the ‘at a distance’ conference.


The conference is specifically designed for academics and activists with a particular interest in engaging constructively with politics at a distance from the state. This gathering is the first of its kind in post-Apartheid South Africa and it should appeal not only to individuals and groups within South Africa but also to individuals and groups outside South Africa who wish to engage through an interchange of ideas and practices with like-minded academics and activists in Africa. The format for the conference has yet to be decided upon. But it will be as informal as possible yet very vigorous and engaging. It will entail a number of conversations.


For any further information, please contact:

Kirk Helliker, Sociology, Rhodes University     Tarryn Alexander, Sociology, Rhodes University                                    

Last Modified: Wed, 27 Feb 2013 09:36:07 SAST

‘Politics at a Distance from the State’ Conference

Grahamstown, South Africa, 29th-30th September 2012

*Supported by the Ministerial Special Project of the Humanities and Social Sciences, via the Centre for Education Policy Development, & the South African Humanities Deans' Association

Organising team: Tarryn Alexander, Kirk Helliker, Richard Pithouse, and Lucien van der Walt

Last Modified: Wed, 27 Feb 2013 09:38:01 SAST

Sociology 2012 Graduates

The Department of Sociology is proud to announce that the following MA and PhD students graduated in April this year:


PhD Students:

Manase Chiweshe

Stella Kwizera


Komlan Agbedahin


MA Students:


Alexander Kaminski


Loveness Chakona - with distinction

Tebello Letsekha

Tarryn Alexander - with distinction

Gayle Kasere

Yeukai Mukorombindo - with distinction

Nomvuyo Nqwemeshe.


Last Modified: Wed, 27 Feb 2013 09:39:04 SAST