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‘Morphogenesis Unbound’ from the Dynamics of Multilevel Networks: A Neo-structural Perspective


One way to understand the notion of Morphogenesis Unbound is to focus on the meso level of society, i.e. to look at society as an ‘organizational society’ and to think about the co-evolution of structure, agency and culture – the three dimensions of Archer’s sociology, analytically speaking – in that context. This co-evolutionary vision happens to be very close to the research program of neo-structural sociology. To illustrate this insight, one neo-structural method, multilevel network analysis through linked design, is applied to a set of empirical data so as to propose a network translation of Morphogenesis Unbound and observe its outcome. This chapter reports results in which actors create new relationships beyond the boundaries of the organization with which they are affiliated, thus reshaping/expanding their own personal opportunity structure beyond the limitations imposed upon them by pre-existing structures. Half the population of the innovators observed (here: highly competitive scientists) deploy ‘independentist’ strategies, i.e. all the new personal ties that they develop in their network among the elite of colleagues of their profession are beyond the constraining perimeter predefined by their organization’s inter-organizational network. The kind of organization that they might create would not establish inter-organizational ties with their current organization. Over time, measurements suggest that this independence takes them close to Nowhere in terms of further achievements. Slightly more pedestrian forms of Morphogenesis, i.e. perhaps less Unbound, based on a relational strategy called here ‘individualist’, in which actors keep a strong foot in the organization in which they are affiliated so as to use its resources to create a new set of ties – and eventually a new organization – outside their current organization’s perimeter, seem to be of a more rewarding kind of networks to Somewhere closer to the “prizes [that] go to those who will explore and can manipulate contingent cultural compatibilities to their advantage” (Archer 2012). In this latter case, even if some of the opportunities that they could create for themselves are hoarded by their current organization (or boss). Such neo-structural measurements of Morphogenesis are used to start thinking about situations in which the two generative mechanisms identified by Archer (2012), competition and opportunity, coexist; as differentiated from the situations in which the latter would replace the former. Indeed creating new ties with heterogeneous actors, beyond one’s current position and sometimes even new kinds of organizations, is a highly cultural form of agency. Breiger’s notion of ‘weak culture’ helps speculate about actors’ capacity to reshape opportunity structures by reaching heterogeneous alters in spite of resistance from a rather stable, change-averse, tightly-connected organizational society promoting ordinary incremental innovation that will not challenge pre-existing entrenched interests.


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hal-01521677 , version 1 (12-05-2017)



Emmanuel Lazega. ‘Morphogenesis Unbound’ from the Dynamics of Multilevel Networks: A Neo-structural Perspective. Margaret S. Archer. Late Modernity, Springer, pp.173 - 191, 2014, 9783319032658. ⟨hal-01521677⟩
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