Margaret S. Archer (1943-2023)
Margaret Archer, the grand old lady of British social theory, passed away on Sunday 21st of May at the age of 80. She was suffering from a pancreatic cancer, but died in peace at her home in the British Midlands. Margaret Archer was the president of the ISA from 1986 to 1990, the first woman elected to the post. She also edited and enlivened Current Sociology, the journal of the ISA from 1972 to 1980.
Professor Archer started her career as a sociologist of education. She gained a Ph.D. from the LSE in 1967 and worked together with Pierre Bourdieu and Luc Boltanski in Paris. She spent most of her career at the University of Warwick, from which she retired in 2010. She holds two honorary doctorates. From 2014 until 2019, she was the President of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences at the Vatican. Acting as an advisor to the Pope, she put Artificial Intelligence, human trafficking and slavery on the agenda.
Margaret Archer was a formidable theorist. She is best known for her association with critical realism and the development of the morphogenetic perspective as an ambitious and complex social theory that interrelates structure, culture and agency without reduction – or “conflation”, as she phrased it. The morphogenetic perspective was developed in a sequence of highly influential books published by Cambridge University Press: Culture and Agency (1988), Realist Social Theory: The Morphogenetic Approach (1995), Being Human. The Problem of Agency (2000), Structure, Agency and the Internal Conversation (2003); Making our Way through the World. Human Reflexivity and Social Mobility (2007), The Reflexive Imperative in Late Modernity (2012) and (with Pierpaolo Donati) The Relational Subject (2015). Together with her colleagues from the Centre for Social Ontology, she also edited a multi-volume series of books on the morphogenetic society at Springer and, more recently, also a new series on post-human futures at Routledge. A personal account of her intellectual journey can be found here.
Maggie was a strong and forceful but also caring woman with a passionate concern for social justice. She was the main representative of critical realism within sociology. She has set the agenda for social theory over three decades. Her work on reflexivity, internal conversations and the morphogenetic society will continue to inspire future work. At the ISA, we’ll miss her deeply. She was also very active in the ISA right up until the last few months. We insisted at the Council of the National Associations Conference in Nova Gorica (Slovenia) last November to have her as a keynote speaker but her health situation already made it difficult for her to travel. She was also invited to Melbourne to comment, along with other former presidents, on a paper about the history of ISA. She was always a shrewd source of advice for many ISA members and for me as President.
We will cherish her memory and continue to feel especially privileged to have known and read her for so long. May her soul rest in peace and may her family and friends have the consolation that her ideas will live on forever in Popper’s World 3.
Frederic Vandenberghe (Universidade Federal de Rio de Janeiro & Distinguished Max Weber Fellow, Max Weber Kolleg, Universität Erfurt) and Sari Hanafi, President, International Sociological Association