Morphogenetic theory and the constructivist institutionalist challenge

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This article engages with two meta-theoretical approaches to social analysis, ‘morphogenetic theory’ and ‘constructivist institutionalism’, and specifically explores how the former fares under the critical scrutiny of the latter. The key proponent of constructivist institutionalism, Colin Hay, has offered two detailed critiques of morphogenesis that criticise its position on the foundational sociological issues of structure-agency and material-ideational. Although Hay's critiques are largely rejected in an overall defence of the morphogenetic approach, the process of engagement is seen to be particularly useful for morphogenetic theory because it allows a number of important clarifications to be made and it also opens up space for theoretical development. In the course of this debate, accessible introductions are given to both theories, and the similarities and differences between them are outlined, providing clarity to both. Therefore, although this article ultimately operates as a defence of morphogenetic theory, especially in the form proposed by Margaret Archer and Douglas Porpora, it finds a great deal of fruitful discussion in the constructivist institutionalist challenge.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)106-126
Number of pages21
JournalJournal for the Theory of Social Behaviour
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 7 Dec 2018


  • Structure and agency
  • Colin Hay
  • Constructivist institutionalism
  • Critical realism
  • material and ideational
  • Morphogenesis
  • Margaret Archer


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