The analytical rules of the Method in Social Sciences (V) The postulate of the consequences of the action

The assertion that every action has consequences and should not require further defense. To perform an action implies the use of some resources –those needed to carry it out-and those resources are not available after this action. To perform an action means you get certain results –results that involve certain changes with respect to the previous situation –in which those results did not exist.

Despite the apparent obviousness of the postulate, is a statement very easy to forget or not take into account. In fact, an important part of the analysis of reproduction of social practices is often to ignore it. It is not strange to find authors for whom the sole or main condition for a practice to play it is simply that people be convinced that they must carry them out.

The problem, as these critics have argued, is this: If the habitus were determined by objective conditions, ensuring appropriate action for the social position in which any individual was situated, and the habitus were unconsciously internalized general and categories, then social change would be impossible. The Individuals would act according to the objective structural conditions in which they found themselves, and they would consequently simply reproduce those objective conditions by repeating the same practices (King 2000, 427).

The above quote, and many others that could have been possible, exemplifies the trend. Apparently the only consequence and the only requirement of a social practice is formed by the actions that constitute it. Therefore, to ensure the disposition to perform them is all a practice requires, and its assurance become the social change impossible.

This way of looking at the action is insufficient. To put the clearest example of why it is insufficient: the more that the easter islanders were ultra-efficient in getting everyone to follow to the letter their cultural rules, they could not continue with the practice of constructing moai statues once were without trees (Diamond 2005, 79-119). The practice had a consequence, a level of use of the resource tree, which would eventually be exterminated by the success of the practice in its reproduction. But to obtain that resource was a necessary condition for the practice. Or to use another example, most societies mesopotamian could replicate their practices, and their habitus, the salinization of soils are the product of their agricultural practices would have made impossible the cultivation of cereals in a certain territory (Liverani 1991 [1988]). The correctness of the hypothesis of salinization has been discussed (Postgate 1992), but what is clear in the discussion are the consequences that would have occurred if there had been that processes. Or to use an example that doesn’t take up ecological resources: The development of the economic practices of modern society leads to an increase in the education requirements of workers. This involves the development of education (basic at least). This leads to that the children have to stay in the classroom instead of participating in the labour force. That in turn leads to an increase in the cost of children. That, in turn, has as consequence a decrease in the number of children. That in turn….

What we show all these cases is that the reproduction of a practice depends not only achieve that people are willing to carry out the actions that constitute a practice. There are other requirements, at least the existence of the resources that are used in the actions that make up the practice. In the above examples we have used loop’s very short: the practices affect almost directly the resources required for its continuation (to facilitate their use as examples). However, the loop can be much broader.

One reason for which many times we forget the above have to do with the relationship of the requirements / consequences with that reproduction. On the one hand, if among the effects of a practice are some that destabilize, we may think that these practices are not relevant: would Not be practical in balance –to use a term that appeals to economists – and therefore disappear soon. However, a practice may have adverse consequences to their permanence, but the time in which unfolds the process can be long, so that practice can be maintained by a relevant time.

On the other hand, if among the effects of a practice are several that stabilize, all the more reason to forget the topic, given that the result would be ‘trivial’, the important thing would still be to achieve that people have the disposition to perform the action. However, this provision can come only or primarily for those purposes, that does not cease to be relevant. The idea of the duality of structure by Giddens, and that the consequences of an action are the context of the following (Giddens 1984), it has to be remembered has consequences with regard to both the reproduction and change of practices.

The idea that actions and practices have consequences and requirements we are made to see that no practice can be analysed separately. Your requirements can be affected by many other practices -that are independent of the initial – and has consequences that can affect many other practices -and that a practice can’t always control. This importance of the interrelationship between practices are the product of their mutual requirements and influences is even more relevant if we observe that the consequences of an action are multiple and varied: thus, the full path of relationships between various practices can be highly complex: the same practice can affect multiple resources that are requirements of multiple other practices, and in turn the resources required can be affected by many other practices, and perhaps were affected by practices that do not already exist for long-term assets. The theme of the opacity of the network of social relations (that we previously observed in the previous section) goes to show its relevance.

In our discussion about consequences (and requirements) have stressed the importance of the resource to the action. Although the consequences are not limited to resources, they do not cease to be a consequence and requirement relevant. Which leads us to emphasize that, although the social life can only be constituted by the social elements (interactions, communications, etc), cannot be analyzed separately from their ‘materiality’. It may be that the social structure does not include the buildings associated with their actions, or the goods that are used in their actions or the energy required for them, but neither can exist without them.

The fact that actions have consequences may seem an obvious fact, but the consequences of taking seriously the above are relevant. Any analysis of social life should overlook this feature.

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