Identifying the Explanatory Domain of the Looping Effect: Congruent and Incongruent Feedback Mechanisms of Interactive Kinds

Winner of the 2020 Essay Competition of the International Social Ontology Society


  • Tuomas Vesterinen University of Helsinki


looping effect, natural kinds, human kinds, realism, psychiatric disorders, social mechanisms, cultural psychiatry


Ian Hacking uses the looping effect to describe how classificatory practices in the human sciences interact with the classified people. While arguably this interaction renders the affected human kinds unstable and hence different from natural kinds, realists argue that also some prototypical natural kinds are interactive and human kinds in general are stable enough to support explanations and predictions. I defend a more fine-grained realist interpretation of interactive human kinds by arguing for an explanatory domain account of the looping effect. First, I argue that knowledge of the feedback mechanisms that mediate the looping effect can supplement, and help to identify, the applicability domain over which a kind and its property variations are stably explainable. Second, by applying this account to cross-cultural case studies of psychiatric disorders, I distinguish between congruent feedback mechanisms that explain matches between classifications and kinds, and incongruent feedback mechanisms that explain mismatches. For example, congruent mechanisms maintain Western auditory experiences in schizophrenia, whereas exporting diagnostic labels inflicts incongruence by influencing local experiences. Knowledge of the mechanisms can strengthen explanatory domains, and thereby facilitate classificatory adjustments and possible interventions on psychiatric disorders.


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