"It's a structural problem." That's a statement you might have come across more often recently, for instance, in discussions about racism, sexism or other kinds of social inequality. Whereas such appeals to social structure have been common in the social sciences for several decades, philosophers - and analytic philosophers, in particular, have long remained sceptical towards the concept. Only more recently have some among them begun to appreciate the relevance of social structure to explanation of certain social phenomena and particular forms of social injustice, in particular.

But what exactly is social structure and why should we prefer an explanation of some phenomenon in terms thereof an rather than, say, individual attitudes and behaviour? This is a question that social theorists have sought to answer for several decades. Although we can already find implicit answers to these questions in early social theory going back all the way to Marx, Giddens' theory of 'structuration' was crucial in putting the notion of social structure at the heart of the sociological debate. Moreover, this theory has sparked several debates that persist until today and that have, in the last years, also spilled over into philosophy. Here, particularly due to the ground-breaking work of Sally Haslanger, they have become the topic of flowering new field of inquiry.

In this seminar, we will engage with debates over the nature of social structure and of structural explanation in the social sciences. Since many of these debates hark back to central themes in Marx's social theory, we will begin by discussing some of the central texts in which he elaborates on these themes. Against this historical background, we will then turn to Giddens' theory of 'structuration', its critics, and the further developments they have spawned. Before we turn to the most recent philosophical debate over social structure and structural explanation in social science, we will first revisit the earlier debate over 'methodological individualism' to understand why (analytic) philosophers have long been so sceptical about these notions. We will close our discussion with Sally Haslanger's account of social structure and social-structural explanation and further accounts that have built upon it.