Excerpt: Autopoiesis appears to have made a substantial impact on the fields of sociology and socio-legal theory. In both contexts it is seen as a theory inspired by recent developments in biology. As such it is supposed to contain a truly new concept, to imply the mutual closure of various areas of society, and to represent the most advanced variant of general systems theory.
The history of realism is the best argument for constructivism, but that is only the start of constructivism’s troubles! Although constructivism is typically seen as existing within the human sciences, the perils that await constructivism have already been foreshadowed in the history of the natural sciences. After surveying the various instabilities inherent in the realist position, I consider the natural science whose self-understanding has been most consistently constructivist: chemistry. After drawing some lessons from chemistry’s ill-fated attempt at socio-epistemic prominence earlier this century, I then examine recent constructivist efforts to avoid the ‘context-captivity’ that befell chemistry. However, these depend too much on the ‘normal science’ image of inquiry that constructivism is supposedly designed to subvert. Nevertheless, a precedent for this position may be found in rhetoric’s historical retreat from political involvement to the pursuit of ‘interpretation’. Next, I argue that one way of repoliticizing constructivism is to consider alternative social formations within which constructivist projects can be pursued. Surprisingly, this sense of ‘reflexivity’ has been under-represented in the constructivist literature. Social movements appear to be an especially good alternative to, say, disciplinary paradigms, for reasons that I go on to explain. Finally, the entire discussion is epitomized by contrasting ‘Right’ and ‘Left’ constructivisms according to the features of realism that constructivists have felt worthy of simulation.