‘Counterfinality’ in sociological theory: Reconceptualization of the concept

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Counterfinality is defined as unintended consequences of the uncoordinated actions of rationally acting individuals. Even before the concept was introduced by Sartre and developed by Elster, counterfinality was considered by many scholars. Some defined counterfinality as a type of social paradoxes and dilemmas, others - as an outcome of social interaction. Description and analysis of such social contradictions and paradoxes can be found in the works of Hobbes, Mandeville, Smith, Marx and Hegel. In the 20th century, sociologists also considered the issue of unintended consequences. Many classic papers of Merton contributed to the sociological analysis of the unintended consequences of intentional actions. Subsequent works focused on their classifications, and the phenomenon of counterfinality was highlighted in almost every classification. The term ‘counterfinality’ was introduced by Sartre as an ‘appendage of history’, an unforeseen consequence of many interactions. The sociological study of counterfinality was initiated by Elster. He analyzes counterfinality not within the functionalist paradigm, but in the methodological individualism perspective, and for him, counterfinality acts as a basis for social change. The author’s analysis of the main ideas of Sartre, Elster and other authors on counterfinality reveals its distinctive features in general and in the sociological analysis of social action in particular. The author argues that today the counterfinality theory consists mainly of responses and criticism of the ideas of Sartre and Elster, and that further sociological research should focus on conditions, features and consequences of counterfinality, and on its empirical indicators.

About the authors

I. A. Latypov

National Research University Higher School of Economics

Author for correspondence.
Email: ialatypov@hse.ru

аспирант факультета социальных наук

Myasnitskaya St., 11, Moscow, 101000, Russia


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