The paper raises some problems caused by `associational thinking' in social science by reference to examples from the literature on economic organisation and gender. Associational thinking focuses on common associations between social phenomena, such as the gendering of organisations, without asking counterfactual questions about the status of these relationships, for example, whether organisations are unavoidably gendered or only contingently so. It is argued these questions have been inadequately resolved in the literature, as a consequence of a reluctance to engage in counterfactual reasoning and abstraction, and a neglect of the extent to which systems - as opposed to the lifeworld - are `identity-blind'. These questions are pursued through discussions of whether markets and bureaucracies are inherently gendered. It is argued further that associational thinking has also clouded the normative judgements implicit in the critiques of gendered organisations.