Social ontology is a rapidly growing field within analytic philosophy. The general topic is the metaphysics of the social world, for instance, the nature of events like the French Revolution, entities like nations and peoples, and institutions such as monarchy and private property. The main question is: What is the nature and structure of social and institutional reality?

A number of questions are related to this topic: What is an institutional fact, e.g. the fact that Stefan Löfven is the prime minister of Sweden? How are social and institutional facts possible? How do we construct an objective social reality? Which are the basic building blocks of social reality? Is there a principle underlying all institutional reality? Can we discover social facts? How do social facts fit into our theory of the natural world? And what is social power and social structures? These questions form the subject matter of social ontology and the foundation of the social sciences.

During this course, we will provide answers to the above questions by discussing an influential theory in this field - Searle’s theory of social reality - and some of the most important objections and additions to it. The purpose is to increase our understanding of the social phenomena we all encounter on an everyday basis, such as money, an institution like Stockholm University, and being a student with various forms of social power such as rights (positive deontic powers) and obligations (negative deontic powers).

Course dates: September 4 - October 23

Time and room: Fridays 10-12 in room F239, F279 (11/9) and F263 (9/10, 23/10)

Teacher: Åsa Burman


  • Andersson, Åsa, Power and social ontology, Bokbox Publications, 2007
  • Searle, John, The construction of social reality, New York: Free Press, 1996

Selected articles and book chapters:

Theme: Social ontology as the foundation of the social sciences?

  • Thomasson, Amie, ”Foundations for a social ontology,” ProtoSociology, 18-19: 2003

Theme: Human rights as institutional facts?

  • James, Susan, ”Rights as enforceable claims”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 103 (2): 2003
  • Searle, John, ”Human rights” chapter 8 in Making the social world, Oxford University Press, 2010

Theme: Social power: Gender and race as social facts?

  • Haslanger, Sally, ”Gender and Race: (What) are they? (What) do we want them to be?” Noûs 34:1, 2000