On the ontology of social pathologies
The recent years have seen a rehabilitation of the concept of social pathology in the critical social theory. However, several pertinent questions about how to understand social pathologies remain. One of the big issues is, who is actually ill when a society is ill? Is it certain individuals, a large proportion of the population, groups, institutions, or the society as a whole? And what does it mean for these entities to be in a pathological state?
This short presentation introduces four conceptions of social pathology that can be divided into roughly two camps. The “thin sense” of social pathology is more metaphorical and focuses on the socially caused and pervasive suffering of individuals while the “thick sense” of social pathology takes seriously the medical connotations of the word pathology and aims to apply them on the social or collective level. The aim in here is to highlight how the social-ontological commitments of the theories of social pathologies vary greatly. While it becomes clear that critical social theory can be achieved almost any combination of social ontological positions, the short analysis finishes with tentative desiderata for critical social ontology.
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