virus: Re : sociological change
Sat, 21 Dec 1996 13:38:00 -0500

Responding to Ken Pantheists, on Structuration theory

A shorthand description of structuration is that social structure is both the
medium and outcome of human behavior. In his "New Rules of Sociological
Method" (1993) Anthony Giddens presents a research program that summarizes
structuration. I'll present a few of the lead sentences of his classification

A1. Sociology is not concerned with a ‘pre-given' universe of objects, but
with one which is constituted or produced by the active doings of

A2. The production and reproduction of society thus has to be treated as a
skilled performance on the part of its members.....

B1. The realm of human agency is bounded. Human beings produce society, but
they do so as historically located actors, and not under conditions of their
own choosing....

B2. Structure must not be conceptualized as simply placing constraints upon
human agency, but as enabling. This what [he calls] the duality of structure.
Structure can always in principle be examined in terms of its structuration.

B3. Processes of structuration involve an interplay of meanings, norms, and

His sections C and D concern the role of the sociological observer. You might
note that section A is directly antithetical to memetics, but that parts of
the "meme" metaphor could be adapted into section B.

Another way of simplifying structuration (perhaps oversimplifying it) is to
say that "People make society and society makes people." Or "Humans are both
producers and products of the social world." Memetics makes us products only.

Constructivism, formulated by Nicholas Onuf in "World of Our Making" (1989)
and later papers, uses structuration to examine political theory, and goes
much farther in elaborating the three types of social practice, linking them
to the established logical categories of abduction, deduction and induction.
I touched on these in another post.

I initially thought that memetics might be amenable to constructivism because
of some conceptual similarities to many social practices of abduction. I now
see, following XYZ's posts and a closer reading of Dawkins and Lynch, that
formal memetics denies that science can be a "virus." The memetic world view
is profoundly anti-religious, though extreme purveyors have deemed it a
religious "Church of Virus," sanctifying Darwin as a saint.

For Dawkins, " the mind serves as "duplication fodder" for an epidemic of
faith memes which "favor pointless self-serving behavior." Scientific belief,
being "virtuous" may be naturally selected, but it does not propagate itself
like a disease. As Lynch summarizes, "Thus the cognitively propagated idea
"is propagated" rather than "propagates itself." I think the flaw stems from
Dawkins misunderstanding of intersubjectivity, which pervades all human
communication, not only science (See Section 4 in "Virus of the Mind").

It seems like Dawkins and Lynch are so concerned with showing that religion
is bad, that they miss the chance to take on more general questions about
social communication. They're so close. What a tease.

Nevertheless, the power of the memetic concept, which captures the
"virtuality" of structure, easily resonates into a grander vision which can
include Hofstadter's meme sets (schemes), and a pop wisdom which includes
fashion (as in Wired's "Meme Watch"). So, a lot of people take the idea and
run with it, and can see science as a meme, even though that is far from what
the founders of memetics believe.

I'm concluding that memetics is a somewhat insightful, but jumbled up
quasi-religion parading as science. I'm still trying to understand what
Hofstadter has to say, since he seems to take a more sober approach, and
because he puts a great emphasis on reflexivity, which also happens to be a
central concept in Giddens's theory of modernity.

Craig Simon