L’Attore Sociale


La sociologia tradizionale considera il soggetto agente come qualcuno o qualcosa davanti a cui il sociologo si pone come osservatore.

Per raggiungere l’oggettività poi il sociologo dovrebbe conferire un senso stabile alle proprie operazioni osservative,descrivendo compiutamente anche se stesso, ma per farlo necessita di considerare anche l’attore sociale osservato come un osservatore.

Questa ricorsività denuncia già qualche problema logico (il paradosso dell’auto-osservazione), ma il sociologo di solito ignora la sua localizzazione socioculturale e ricade, senza avvedersene, nell’idea che l’attore sia una datità autonomamente costituita (illusione tipica del realismo ingenuo o dell’idealismo), avvolgendosi nuovamente, e ignaramente, nel paradosso dell’auto-osservazione.

Il passo di Luciano Gallino (L’attore sociale, Einaudi, Torino 1987) citato più giù dimostra questa oscillazione.


Dato che ho individuato in precedenza alcuni argomenti in un altra lingua (inglese) per definire una congettura alternativa sul ruolo della auto-osservazione in sociologia, non tradurrò in italiano gli argomenti, ma li adatterò semplicemente al testo del seguente paragrafo, distinguendo il testo in lingua per mezzo di un altro colore.




How is possible avoiding the paradox of auto-observation with regard to social actor?

Let imagine that the social actor is, as our common sense ordinarily thinks, a self.

Here a possible rational way: there is an  essay of M. Hofstadter (I Am a Strange Loop, Douglas Hofstadter 2007, Basic Books, New York ), which connects the self-referential nature of mathematical statements to self-referential awareness of consciousness (the self’s sense of its own existence). It explains, with an allusive “analogy”, how the mysterious nature of the human mind itself is shapeless and non perceptual, because nobody can see the boundary of an open system (all self-referential systems are or incomplete or inconsistent: ergo, they are open to something else outside their boundaries). We cannot say from where the self comes and where it goes (like the Wind, it would be not rationally consistent saying that awareness comes only from the brain and not, also, from other minds too, other selves, the cultural-Popperian-world-3 or even from the invisible seat of the Spirit).

The self is, possibly, connected to a non positive and non spatial and non temporal world: its strange loopiness creates a higher-level activity, the ability to create (Hofstadter asserts) non consistent or incomplete symbols of-which-is outside the boundary of this particular space and time (bridging my local mind/brain and extra-local minds).

The self is non perceptual, because, like Gödel’s numbers, this self-referentialism creates unanswerable questions, unsolvable problems “about nature of truth”, but, also, openness into an  invisible and unpredictable reality of truth: the world of perpetual symbolization of a brain and its mind about themselves, which open itself to a reality outside these boundaries (outside minds and brains). So, the self has no proper parts (like the Monads of  Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz), because, logically, what is open has not boundaries and parts. The self is open to which is invisible to our actual experience.

This will be the status of a social actor: an open entity without dichotomic boundaries, partially invisible.


2.1 The social actor as partially invisible entity

Could we pose such statement (the social actor is an open entity without dichotomic boundaries, partially invisible) without pragmatic contradiction?

I think so: maybe you remember the famous romance of Umberto Eco (and the movie), The Name of the Rose. Well, one of the theme of romance was that “the sign is something that bring to our knowledge something other than itself”, something else which is unknown and not visible or not immediately perceptible, like a “single” red, good flavouring Rose. Meanwhile, the sign is visible (a word can be heard), and is a trace of real Rose, of its idea, of its original flavour. When our brain and minds experience signs, how there is no pragmatic contradiction in the question if a “single” Rose is invisible to a complete experience, – so we will have a vague partial experience of what is invisible, which will be revealed by the sign (the sign has no boundaries, so it has no proper but vague parts, which do vaguely contain the invisible whole of the represented Rose).

At the same time, we will have no complete experience of what is invisible, which will remain partially unknown. That’s History of our past, that is a Romance, that is the Private language of a Solipsist or the Common Language of an Isolated Linguistic Community (as unfortunately suggested by Wittgenstein). That is the Sign of a Martyr (Edith Stein), whose death is a sign and a trace of empathy with Historic death of Christ…


2.2 The social actor as migratory entity

We are a migratory specie, despite agriculture, urban society and sedentary styles: as a bird flies, changing this way its environment, so humans modify their environment introducing dramatic changes via their ability of constructing new environments (this behaviour in my opinion could be one of possible evolutionary sources of “technique” as human ability of creating new niches by means of their tools). Now, imagine the propension of brain to migrate and take place in a new environment, occupying the space of possibility of a new mind, so that a mind could come to existence, because there is a pre-existent place of emergency where the brain can tend, which will be something like the Entelechy of Aristotle, and at the same time an interior environment or niche where the brain migrates and emerges. In this case the brain has had the “technique” of constructing a new interior world: which new niche? A new niche made of linguistic descriptive theories of exterior world. Why this world of linguistic theories should be pre-existent? Because it is a converging possibility of converging human faculties (migration, technique, language, description, theorization as imagination of possible worlds represented by terms and arguments), an intentional node of ability.

Is the self impermanent (inside a certain environment)? For example is Francesco impermanent inside only one environment? Yes, his personality cannot be reduced only to this time and this space, notwithstanding Francesco has a nationality, a body, a birth, a culture…albeit no one else feels the physical pain that Donald  experience; anyway, we are not separated, our migratory self is capable of empathy (as taking place in the environment of others compassion). We does not create our selves, we depend on culture, on our education and on the mystery of universal existence. If upon weighing the evidence, we conclude that the self is an illusion, then this is simply one environment (the place of illusion) from where our migratory self will tries to evade off!

So, in this sense the self will be more real of any other place, where anti-kantian philosophers try to relegate the human self.


2.3 The social actor as a mind

If we identify the meaning of a social actor, as a mind, using Searle  first person ontology, the meaning could seems unattainable, for an error of perspective. The meaning could be complex, but not unattainable. Our theories on our mind could try to simplify and communicate our personal thoughts about our mind (without confirming the solipsism). Then, if mind is what the brain creates, (counterargument): why the mind is capable of suicide (which is a cultural and personal act, independent from any physical brain disease)?

Is mind simply neural activity? A Popperian counterargument: why behaviourist try to persuade us that all is physical? Why they produce so much arguments, if they believe that mind is simply neural activity.  Why don’t they simply re-programme our electric activity with any electric brain conditioning? Let’s say that the connection between brain activity and conceptual understanding can be theorized. For example: imagine that concepts are precursors or expectations of neural activity, modelling the mind as a Cartesian quasi-pineal plastic central control of a core of semantic expectations over brain acts.

If mind is an emerging property of the complex neural interactions of the brain, you mean that a casual evolution of neural activities can give raise to a mind. I agree with you that some evolution can happen from the bottom to the top, producing a migratory self which has the superior (irreducible) property to control plastically (semantically) the brain and the body. Why don’t we also guess to an evolution of mind from the top to the bottom? Imagine the propension of mind to come to existence, because there is a pre-existent place of emergency where the brain can tend to take place, occupying the space of possibility of a new mind, which will be something like the Entelechy of Aristotle. Such theoretical possibility explains why the self is not independent of the physical brain, why the self is independent but is constrained by the limitations of the physical brain (like the driver of an automobile is constrained to speed and terrain by the automobile’s construction), why any emergency of invisible worlds as the world of theories (problems and arguments) and the selves exist and/or interact with the natural world.   


2.4 The social actor as a whole

If a self can be defined as the human subject (brain, body and spirit, put together) who cannot be reified, – then he/she cannot be reduced to time (cannot be reified, cannot be identified with a solid and certain number of slices of time). A migratory self, without fixed environment, in front of the death, cannot take a seat in the place of the death (as in a environment): otherwise it is not a self, otherwise it will be a single part of nature (and it could be reified). So, can a self be immortal, or does a self need to be mortal? You have to make the choice.

St. Augustine in his “Confessionum” (in book 11°) illustrated that his self (his spirit) has a certain connection to memory of passing time: the spirit is a mnemonic apprehension of the presence of the past, that of the future and that of the present. Anyway, Augustine does very well explain (and recognizes) that human self cannot be reduced to time: it cannot be reified, because he/she is disperse in the time (paragraphs 29 and 30, is migratory) till the moment that the eternal mercy comes to bless the self with his presence, beyond the presence of time, which the self tries during his/her migrations to attain beyond the memory of time: “non secundum distentionem, sed secundum intentionem sequor ad palmam supernae vocationis, ubi audiam vocem laudis et contempler delectationem tuam, nec venientem nec praetereuntem. Nunc vero anni mei in gemitibus, et tu solacium meum, Domine, Pater meus aeternus es; at ego in tempora dissilui, quorum ordinem nescio, et tumultuosis varietatibus dilaniantur cogitationes meae, intima viscera animae meae, donec in te confluam purgatus et liquidus igne amoris tui.


This allowes me to introduce a beloved and perfect expressions of S. Augustine: “…at ego in tempora dissilui, quorum ordinem nescio, et tumultuosis varietatibus dilaniantur cogitationes meae, intima viscera animae meae, donec in te confluam purgatus et liquidus igne amoris tui“. They explain so well the migratory nature of the self through entire time of its life and through interminable reflections of human thoughts in the direction of beloved emergent  appearance of the Mercy and Providence as horizon of meaning.


2.5 A contrary postmodern thesis: the social actor as a mere sensation

The strong argument that the self is a sensation of the body can be a possible approach in line with Hume. But, what about the terrific power of Culture to transform and modify humans, their bodies, their brains: it seems that the interior niches of single minds, operating inside the network of theories incorporated in human linguistic culture, from passive environments became active agents, capable to modify the brain, the body, the nature outside the self.


2.6 Counter-argument: the social actor as migratory trascendence

Now, if human language, which is one of the environment of the brain/body/self, is a logic of infinite order, according to Tarski and Gödel, without borders of coherence or completeness, – then you understand that the environment which is the “mind”, meant as the place of every possible theorization (including Music), is nondeterministically open to the mystery of reality, to its existence and to its truth.

Thus, the self can transcend time, because its language tends to recall, potentially, the entire succession of possible time (for example, trough real numbers).

 Surely we all have a temporary existence, but while the Culture and we are alive, the mystery of reality lies outside there, and our selfs desperately tend (this is a pragmatic action) to migrate to a safe place, possibly made of infinite peace: “donec in te confluam purgatus et liquidus igne amoris tui”, S. Augustin said.

Our free will is grey. Not all is under our control, we have a plastic, as a soft computing, fuzzy, verbal and nondeterministic/vague control of things (which equals to about nothing). We are open, as our language, to interferences and dialogues with other minds, with brute nature and infinite, so that our personal boundaries cannot be object of complete decision (what is ‘me’/ ‘not me’)? I accept some interesting results of Deconstruction about subverting the binary oppositions.

There is no clear demarcation between mind and brain: also S. Thomas said that the soul is formal part of the body.


2.7  The plastic free will of the social actor  as a software

In a Computer there is no possible clear distinction between software and hardware, because after installation of a software the modification of the hardware is something new, an emergent property.

This way, a social actor as a mind must be, at the same time, in a certain measure a body. Just like the software is somehow an hardware component.

Sorry for the joke: It seems that the hardware had a space of possibility (a field of propensions) to migrate to a pre-existent emergent niche of software (embedded in the CD to be installed)!

The problem of a social actor as this kind of software, inside the hardware of the body implies a fuzzy control of the vehicle of body: Is it potential and incomplete? I think so.

Further, this problem implies various serious (and civil) questions: 1) Is it possible a self outside this vehicle? 2) Are the sense of a self, and the awareness of self-awareness, non perceptual and silent?  3) Is self a “inner entity” without color, shape, smell, space and time, etc… changeless? Can it be represented in “positive” language? Well, Edith Stein, who became a saint of Catholic Church, and was a philosopher, when she was a Philosopher told (in her treatise about Empathy) that these problems are irrelevant (“non liquet”, she said). Notwithstanding this, her life demonstrates that they were not. So I reply to your problems: yes, to all.


2.7  Conclusion: The social actor is, partially, a mystery

Humans body and culture can change, also under new conditions, for example those of that sociological phenomenon which is globalisation, but the ‘added value’ of man is a mystery. No empirical study can explain the way a single man or woman feels to be alive and conscious. The individual self is unexplained.

I precisely mean, positively and dialectically, that life of humans is meta-empirical, like their consciousness, which is a mystery for sciences, justly because sciences would be impossible and useless without such founder. No mystery that we cannot capture a free will inside a theory. It would be how watching the eye and its scenario, at the same time.

This is a paradox, and we do it, but this has a precise consequence. Conclusively, the paradox of auto-observation of the social actor has the following meaning: life of humans, as social actors, is meta-empirical, but this is the same grounds of every science.




La teoria dell’attore Per teoria dell’attore intendo una teoria capace di spiegare e di prevedere i modi in cui un individuo, partecipe d’uno o più sistemi sociali, ha agito o agirà in situazioni differenti, in presenza di differenti parametri iniziali della sua condizione, includendo, tra questi ultimi, stati interni quali emozioni, bisogni, scopi, valori, schemi interpretativi, processi di ragionamento. Una teoria del genere parrebbe dover essere un elemento costitutivo d’ogni teoria sociologica, in specie di quella che molti considerano pur sempre la teoria che meglio caratterizza la nostra disciplina, ovvero la teoria dei sistemi sociali. Priva d’una teoria dell’attore, la teoria del sistema sociale si trasforma implicitamente in una sorta di behaviorismo acritico. Le situazioni, i dati socio-anagrafici, le affiliazioni di classe di partito o di cultura si configurano come input in una scatola nera, il cui contenuto ignoto rappresenta appunto l’attore mancante, e dalla quale fuoriescono a titolo di output scioperi e voti, migrazioni e comportamenti devianti, pratiche religiose e ideologie.

In tal modo, anziché modellizzato consapevolmente come titolare dell’iniziativa di agire, l’attore viene inferito a posteriori tramite l’analisi statistica dei risultati delle sue azioni e razionalizzazioni. In assenza d’un modello di soggetto agente cui riferirsi, l’analisi risulta orbata di incidenza critica in due direzioni: verso il modello, che in quanto assente non può venire modificato, rettificato, fatto evolvere ponendolo a fronte degli esiti delle predizioni e post-dizioni in base ad esso formulate; e verso se stessa, poiché qualsiasi predicato, desunto dai suoi calcoli, appare plausibile quando il soggetto sia, com’è, totalmente indeterminato. Non è questa l’ultima ragione della scarsa cumulabilità delle ricerche sociologiche, che si avverte nella sociologia italiana forse più che in ogni altra sociologia nazionale.

Una teoria dell’attore possiede una precisa rilevanza anche sul piano epistemologico. Uno dei maggiori esiti dell’epistemologia del Novecento è consistito nel porre in luce le interrelazioni che sussistono tra osservatore e oggetto osservato. In base a tali esiti si conviene che non solo le osservazioni dipendono dal sistema di coordinate dell’osservatore, ma la descrizione dell’oggetto osservato, sia esso un atomo, l’universo o qualsiasi oggetto intermedio, riveste un senso solamente se è collegata in modo esplicito ad una descrizione dell’osservatore. Nell’analisi sociologica il problema si raddoppia. A fronte dei sistemi socioculturali in cui è inserito, il soggetto agente si pone come un osservatore, il quale dovrebbe dunque venire descritto al solo scopo di poter comprendere i sistemi che osserva. Tale descrizione non può avere altra forma che una teoria dell’attore, un elemento portante della quale sono le rappresentazioni nella mente dell’attore dei sistemi sociali di cui fa parte o ai quali si riferisce.

D’altra parte, a fronte del soggetto agente è il sociologo che si pone come osservatore. Al fine di conferire un senso stabile alle proprie operazioni osservative, egli dovrebbe descrivere compiutamente se stesso, ma per farlo necessita di una teoria della costituzione dell’oggetto che specificamente osserva; oppure può affermare, sebbene con qualche rischio, di essere un osservatore allo stesso titolo in cui lo è l’attore che osserva. In ambedue i casi la mancanza d’una teoria locale del soggetto, che in ragione della sua localizzazione socioculturale conviene specificare come attore, porta l’analisi sociologica a ignorare questa doppia mediazione cognitiva, e a ricadere quindi sui sistemi oggetto come datità autonomamente costituite – illusione tipica del realismo ingenuo, benché talora avvolta in panni idealistici. […] Una teoria dell’azione risulta in genere vincolata all’ambito delle spiegazioni a posteriori degli eventi osservati, poiché uno dei caratteri essenziali dell’azione umana consiste nel decidere caso per caso qual è il referente verso il quale si orienterà l’azione; ma per comprendere simile processo di decisione è necessaria una teoria globale del soggetto agente, ovvero dell’attore. Le smentite, le sorprese alle quali sembra perennemente esposta la spiegazione sociologica sono dovute in notevole misura al non uso d’una teoria dell’attore.


(Luciano Gallino, L’attore sociale, Einaudi, Torino 1987)