The Structures of Social Structural Explanation: Comments on Haslanger’s What is (Social) Structural Explanation?

Rachel Katharine Sterken 1
  • 1 University of Oslo

Abstract

In a recent paper (Haslanger 2016), Sally Haslanger argues for the importance of structural explanation. Roughly, a structural explana- tion of the behaviour of a given object appeals to features of the struc- tures—physical, social, or otherwise—the object is embedded in. It is opposed to individualistic explanations, where what is appealed to is just the object and its properties. For example, an individualistic explanation of why someone got the grade they did might appeal to features of the essay they wrote—its being well-written, answering the set question, etc. But if the class is graded on a curve, then a better explanation will appeal to features of the class—of the social structure in which the student is embedded. That she wrote a better paper than 90% of the class explains better than that she wrote a well-argued paper. In this paper, I get clear as to various candidate concepts of structure that we might appeal to in structural explanations, argue that Haslanger’s preferred account is lacking, and present an alterna- tive that is more conducive to social structural explanation.

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