If we are going to take social mechanisms seriously, we need to be able to say more about what they are. Earlier posts have opened the possibility of offering a scheme of classification for social mechanisms (link, link). Here I want to briefly explore a different idea: to group mechanisms according to which part they play within the space of social influence postulated by the idea of methodological localism (link). I introduced the idea of methodological localism in “Levels of the Social” (link) as an ontological alternative to both methodological individualism and methodological holism. That specification of the nature of social reality suggested a small handful of fundamental questions. Here I want to experiment with classifying a number of mechanisms according to which of these questions they answer. Here is the relevant statement from “Levels of the Social” (link):
According to methodological localism, the social is constituted by socially situated individuals, nested within social relations and institutions that have only an intermediate degree of persistence and permanence.
The socially situated individual finds herself within a concrete set of social relationships, networks, and institutions. This complex serves to socialize and provide incentives, as well as to constrain. The approach of methodological localism supports as well the reality that institutions often have extra-local scope, geographically, demographically, and administratively. So, we can legitimately describe institutions with broader scope as being “higher-level” institutions.
This approach suggests six large areas of focus for social science research:
- What makes the individual tick? [action mechanisms]
- How are individuals formed and constituted? [social constitution mechanisms]
- What are the institutional and organizational factors that motivate and constrain individuals’ choices? [institutional mechanisms on individual behavior]
- How do individual agents’ actions aggregate to higher-level social patterns? [aggregative mechanisms]
- How do macro-level social structures influence other macro-level social structures? [meso-meso mechanisms]
These questions imply eight “zones” of activity for social mechanisms:
0 neuro-cognitive system
1 action and deliberation
2 identity formation
3 institutional influence on individuals
4 aggregation from individual to social
5 social action and collective action
6 hierarchy and control
7 meso-meso influences
I have represented these eight zones in the messy figure above.
This is a “functional” taxonomy of mechanisms; it classifies social mechanisms according to what they do. A different scheme would be to group mechanisms according to how they work: rational choice, game theoretic, social network, sub-cognitive, group dynamics, collective action, coercion, epidemiological, …. If we adopted both schemes, then we would arrive at a two-dimensional classification including both functional location and mode of activity.
So how does this scheme mesh with the mechanisms singled out in my earlier post? Here is a grouping of the mechanisms included in the catalogue presented there according to the current scheme:
0.00 NEURO-COGNITIVE SYSTEM
1.00 ACTION AND DELIBERATION
2.00 IDENTITY FORMATION
3.00 INSTITUTIONAL INFLUENCE ON INDIVIDUALS
4.00 AGGREGATION OF INDIVIDUAL TO SOCIAL
5.00 SOCIAL ACTION AND COLLECTIVE ACTION
5.07 Log rolling
5.08 Person-to-person transmission
6.00 HIERARCHY AND CONTROL
6.08 Ministry direction
7.00 MESO-MESO INFLUENCE
7.06 Soft budget constraint
Interestingly enough, here is a rather similar diagram (in structure, anyway) that is provided by Thornton, Ocacio, and Lounsbury in their presentation of the field of “institutional logics” (The Institutional Logics Perspective: A New Approach to Culture, Structure and Process):
If we understand each of the arrows as a group of mechanisms, extending influence from one zone to the other, the diagram is very similar in its logic to the one provided above.