‘Jigsaw Model’: Logics, Relations and Figurations

What I here call the ‘jigsaw model’ of logics, relations and configurations still makes sense to me. It is, however, easier to define than to illustrate via application. ‘Does it work?’ is the question. Just for a change I am going to introduce it by reference to the sociology of health and illness.

Models in the natural as well as the social sciences are often expeditious devices or means to an end. The notion of the jigsaw model can be said to have three aspects. The first is a ‘best guess’ at an overall picture of the dynamic, complex and highly differentiated social world we inhabit. The second is a series of models, articulated in terms of logics, relations and figurations, each constituting a discrete ‘piece of the jigsaw’. And the third is a process of dialectical reasoning by means of which the glimpse of the overall picture informs the application of models and the application of models informs the sense of the overall picture.

At the kernel of the jigsaw model are the concepts of logics, relations and figurations. I will introduce them by way of an illustration. I assume some familiarity with (a) the critical theory of Habermas, and (b) the critical realism of Bhaskar. Sorry – but there are blogs from me and others on these!

Consider two of Habermas’ four subsystems: the economy and the state. Drawing on French regulation theory, I define the logic of the economy as that of the regime of capital accumulation. This logic establishes the parameters for (‘real’, in Bhaskar’s sense) relations of class. Such relations, when exercised, become generative mechanisms and manifest themselves in tendencies, albeit in open system: they provide sociology with its explanatory thrust. The logic of the regime of capital accumulation and relations of class can be examined within a number of different figurations. Figuration is a term appropriated from Elias, and figurations are defined by him as spatio-temporal interdependency chains or networks that are fluid and diachronically changing. Thus figurations may be local, regional, national or global, or indeed virtual rather than actual.

The logic of the state is that of the mode of regulation. This logic establishes the parameters for relations of command, and these too can be studied in a variety of different figurations. I have often argued elsewhere that the onset of financial capitalism in the early to mid-1970s witnessed a shift in balance between relations of class and command (or a new class/command dynamic). Expressed differently, the emergence of the neo-liberal regime of accumulation in the subsystem of the economy has necessitated a revised mode of regulation in the subsystem of the state. The upshot has been the ceding of ground in many figurations of relations of command to relations of class.

In my studies of health I have had occasion to discern, for example, logics of patriarchy, tribalism, honour, shame and deviance and their respective relations of gender, ethnicity, status, stigma or deviance. One virtue of the jigsaw model is that the same substantive area, and the same figuration, can be revisited and profit under the aegis of more than one model. A define a model as categorical when a dyad of a logic and its relations is primarily (that is, causally) responsible for a discrete phenomenon in a given figuration; derivative when its role is secondary to that of another dyad; and circumstantial when it plays a primary causal role but ‘fortuitously’ (for example, due to unique features of a particular figuration). It is evident that no sociological analysis of – for example, health inequalities – could be considered in any way comprehensive unless broached under – at least – each of the logics and relations already mentioned.

Class relations carry the potential to exploit, and command relations to oppress. This is not of course to deny that many other structures or relations, including those of gender, ethnicity, status, stigma and deviance, are routinely denounced as exploitative or oppressive. But I have often claimed in the interests of ‘terminological exactitude’ that: (a) relations other than those of class and command carry a generalized potential to disadvantage, and (b) that across many figurations this disadvantage is underpinned or infused by relations of class and command. Among the disadvantages often experienced by those with long-term illness, for example, are under- and unemployment and inadequate social transfers, the issue of relations of class and command respectively. The disadvantage endured by the long-term ill is thus typically comprised in part of exploitation and oppression.

I referred earlier to a new class/command dynamic characteristic of financial capitalism. In the figuration of the British nation-state I would contend that the dyad of the logic of the regime of capital accumulation and relations of class are categorical and the dyad of the mode of regulation and relations of command derivative for health inequalities and the disadvantage associated with long-term illness. But these are but two pieces of a complex jigsaw. No account of health inequalities or the sequelae of long-term illness could be considered credible without numerous revisits in terms of other dyads of logics and relations. Moreover, in other figurations other dyads – patriarchy/gender, tribalism/ethnicity – would undoubtedly emerge as categorical.

But what if we revisit health inequalities and long-term illness in the figuration of the British nation-state via two other dyads: shame/stigma and blame/deviance? I define shame/stigma as hinging on the cultural ‘ascription’ of an ontological deficit (implying an imperfection of being), and blame/deviance as hinging on the cultural ‘achievement’ of a moral deficit (implying a failure of moral fibre or decision-making). I have argued that in the figuration of the British and many another nation-state the dynamic between these two dyads of logics/relations have shifted in financial capitalism, largely in response to its class/command dynamic.

Specifically, stigma relations have become derivative of deviance relations. What does this mean? Briefly, it means, for example, that the tendency for people with long-term illness to be shunned or discriminated against because of their ontological deficit has been augmented or displaced of late by the tendency for them to be shunned or discriminated against because of their moral deficit. The person with a long-term illness has acquired a more urgent personal responsibility to pursue strategies of normalization, at a bare minimum to pass or cover. As far as health inequalities are concerned, the poor, disproportionately vulnerable to illness and premature mortality, are now (ideologically) culpable for their circumstances. The structural roots of their personal predicaments in the class/command dynamic seems clear enough.

The question for anyone who chances on this blog is: is the jigsaw model worth persevering with? My own experience is that it may be too cumbersome to explicate prior to use. But I still sense that it retains theoretical/conceptual merit.


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