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Agents, Structures and International Relations

The morphological account of social facts concentrates on those

aspects of societies that are external to individuals. In many ways struc-
tures are simply aggregates of individual level properties given a macro
form. For the morphological tradition, structure is a set of social facts
external to individuals. Structure is an environment within which indi-
viduals act. The collective representations account of social facts, on the
other hand, sees social facts as intrinsic to the identities and modes of
being of individuals. These collective representations constitute what it
means to be an individual. The continental tradition of structuralism,
then, sees this constitutive aspect as essential to any form of structural-
ism. The sociological structural tradition, on the other hand, based as it
is on Durkhiem’s morphological treatment of social facts, simply does
not accept the claim that social structures constitute individuals. Rather
structure is largely viewed as a constraining (sometimes enabling) envi-
None of this is to claim that the two structural traditions share noth-
ing in common. Both, for example, are committed to the belief that
societies should be studied as total systems, or connected wholes (i.e.
structures), and that the important factors of these connected wholes
are their internal patterns of connection, and not the isolated elements
of which these structures are composed. Despite these commonalities,
however, the two traditions are drawn from very different intellectual
resources and have taken differing trajectories. The structural sociology
tradition took its lead from Durkheim and Marx, but largely devel-
oped through the structural functionalism of Talcott Parsons and sys-
tems theory. Absent from its development is any sense of engagement
with structural linguistics or Freudian themes. The continental tradition
likewise began from an engagement with Durkheim and Marx, but its
trajectory was defined through an engagement with the work of Freud,
and in particular, the linguistic theories of Ferdinand Saussure. It was
further developed through an, at times, hostile engagement with con-
flicting views on the philosophy of the subject and to varying degrees
embedded a rejection of existentialism or any notion of the active self-
reflective human subject. The key sources in this respect were Husserl,
Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty and Sartre.23 Most important, however, is the
engagement with Saussure.24

23 Heidegger (1996); Merleau-Ponty (1962); Merleau-Ponty and O’Neill (1974); Sartre

(1983); Sartre and Mairet (1948); Sartre and Barnes (1957).
24 Saussure (1960).