H(orace). Rom(ano) (1927-
Department of the Philosophy
Oxford University, UK
Rom Harré was born in
New Zealand on December 18, 1927. He completed his B.Sc. and
M.A. degrees at the University of Auckland and served as an instructor
of physics at King's College, Aukland from 1948 to 1953. He received
a B.Phil. from Oxford in 1956 where he pursued postgraduate study
in philosophy. He held a series of appointments in a Pakistani
and several British schools teaching mathematics and science
until joining the faculty of the department of the philosophy
of science at Oxford in 1960. He became a Fellow of Linacre College
at Oxford in 1965. Harré also holds an adjunct position
as Professor of Psychology at Georgetown University, Washington,
As a student in the late 1960s
and early 1970s, Robin Hodgkin remembers joining her peers at
Oxford to hear lectures by a brilliant philosophy don, Rom Harré.
In those days of cultural shifts and political dissent -- both
student-led and government-inspired -- Harré warned of
a different upheaval, a "Kuhnian revolution (`Copernican',
he said) that was beginning to undermine our current positivist,
mechanistic understanding of science. The crisis had become most
acute in the social sciences and so we must free ourselves from
the chains which this kind of thinking about people and society
imposed. Instead of men and women and children being seen primarily
as `subjects' whose behaviour was caused by two or three measurable
variables we, sapient organisms, should be seen and studied as
agents or persons with unique (but problematic) potentialities,
hopes, liabilities, interests. Further, we enrich ourselves and
our communities by giving `accounts'--stories--about our lives
and our imaginings." (Hodgkin, 1992, p. 101). In reviewing
the Festschrift assembled to honor Harré two decades
later (Bhaskar, 1990), Hodgkin here points to his early prophetic
and insightful role as one of the crucial figures who fostered
the shift of thinking toward a narratively-attuned psychology.
Harré's scholarly program
in both philosophy and psychology is simply too large to summarize
here. As recalled by Hodgkin (1992) and germane to this guide,
he outlined the contours and implications of the "discursive
turn" in social science from his perspective as a philosopher
and historian of modern science. He dates the emergence of the
discursive perspective to the late 1980s (Harré &
Gillett, 1994, p. vii); yet, he notes that the broad intellectual
work leading to this position stretches back at least to the
early 1920s to figures like G.
H. Mead. He characterizes the turn as a "second cognitive
revolution" in which psychology returned to "the study
of active people, singly or in groups, using material and symbolic
tools to accomplishy all sorts of projects according to local
standards of correctness" (Harré, 1995, p. 144; see
Harré & Gillett, 1994, pp. 18-36 for a fuller description
of this "second cognitive revolution."). In another
place his argument is more succinct: "in this universe,
there are people performing discursive acts and there are material
poles and charges. That is all." (Harré, 2002, p.
Discourse which Harré
understands expansively not only as language but a host of symbolic
and gestural activities is what people do. He criticizes many
social theorists for dichotomizing the world into discursive
descriptions of social life on one side and a collection of reified
social objects so described on the other. This practice stems
from what he terms the fallacies of "misplaced efficacy"
and "projection". Thus, the fact that we can fashion
concepts which summarily describe regularities of social life
does not mean that those concepts (e.g., social structure, class
status, etc.) cause or affect individuals or groups to do anything.
On the contrary, following the lead of Wittgenstein, "[w]ords,
the bearers of concepts, are not related to our experience as
names are to things. Rather they are to be studied as instruments
or tools; used in complex practical activities through which
our experiences are expressed in public conduct." (Harré,
1995, pp. 148-149)
Biography at Virtual Faculty site
- New, Caroline (n.d.). Rom
Harre. Biographical profile online at the Website for Critical
Some papers of Harré
Harré, R. (1979). Social
being. Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell. (Also, issued in 1993
in a 2nd edition by same publisher).
Harre, R. (1984). Personal
being: A theory for individual psychology. Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press.
Harré, R. (1986). The social construction of emotions.
London: Basil Blackwell.
Harré, R. (1986). Varieties
of realism. Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell. (b)
Harré, R. (1991). Physical
being: a theory for a corporal psychology. Oxford: Blackwell.
Harré, R. (1995). Discursive
psychology. In J. A. Smith, R. Harré, and L. Van Langenhove
(Eds.), Rethinking psychology (pp. 143-159). Thousand
Oaks, CA: Sage.
Harré, R., & Secord,
P. F. (1972). The explanation of social behaviour. Oxford,
Harré, R., & Gillett,
G. (1994). The discursive mind. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Harré, R. (2002). Tilting
at windmills: Sociological commonplaces and miscellaneous ontological
fallacies. European Journal of Social Theory, 5(1), 143-148.
Smith, J. A., Harré, R.,
& Van Langenhove, L. (Eds.). (1995). Rethinking psychology.
Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Harré, R., & Parrott,
W.G. (Eds.) (1996). The emotions: Social, cultural, and physical
dimensions of the emotions. London: Sage
Bhaskar, R. (Ed.). (1990).
Harré and his critics: Essays in honour of Rom Harre
and his commentary on them. Oxford, UK: Blackwell. (A Festschrift
in honor of Harré.)
Hodgkin, R. A. (1992). Exploring
human being [Review of the book Harré and his critics:
Essays in honour of Rom Harre and his commentary on them].
Oxford Review of Education, 18(1), 101-109.
This review provides an excellent
oveview of many of the major themes of Harré's work through
the early 1990s.
Authors Online. (2001). The Gale Group.; Hodgkin
(1992); New (n.d.); Smith, Harré, & Van Langenhove