Social Mechanisms and Their Feedbacks: Mechanical vs Relational Emergence of New Social Formations

  • Pierpaolo DonatiEmail author
Part of the Social Morphogenesis book series (SOCMOR)


The concept of social mechanism (SM) has been defined until now as a causal connection between a set of inputs (first order elements and activities) and certain ‘regular’ outputs. The explanation for the causal relation involved in this process has been of a deterministic (mechanical) type, although in more complex terms than a ‘push-pull’ explanation. In this contribution, I argue that in the field of social phenomena, unlike the physical world, determinism is a limiting case that should be framed in a generalised theory of how SMs operate. I maintain that SMs (conceived as causal configurations that tendentially transform a set of elements and relations into regular outputs) are, instead, sensitive to agency and the social context upon which they continue to depend. The reason is that regular outputs emerge through second order feedbacks (relational feedbacks) that establish the selection of the variety and variability produced by first order positive feedbacks among the agents/actors involved. In this framework it is possible to understand that there exist not only SMs that generate specific causal chains having predetermined outputs, but also SMs that create new social forms as outcomes endowed with a dynamic stability open to contingencies. Some practical examples are given to develop the argument.


Mechanical mechanisms Generative mechanisms Relational emergence Relational feedbacks Social formations 


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© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology and Business LawUniversity of BolognaBolognaItaly

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