Slime mold intelligence

We often think of intelligent action in terms of a number of ideas: goal-directedness, belief acquisition, planning, prioritization of needs and wants, oversight and management of bodily behavior, and weighting of risks and benefits of alternative courses of action. These assumptions presuppose the existence of the rational subject who actively orchestrates goals, beliefs, and priorities …

The similarity space of actor-centered research frameworks

  There are a number of approaches to the study of the social world that give special priority to individuals in social settings. Rational choice theory and game theory (Becker, Harsanyi) attempt to understand social outcomes as the result of the strategies and calculations of rational actors. Actor-centered sociology and pragmatist theory attempt to uncover …

Simon on complexity

Herbert Simon's The Sciences of the Artificial - 3rd Edition provided an alternative model for thinking about society. We can think of social institutions as partially designed and selected for their organizational properties; so they are different from proteins and planetary systems.  Simon is also an important contributor to the study of complexity. So his new chapter …

The domain of agent-based models

Agent-based modeling is an intriguing new set of tools for computational social science. The techniques permit us to project forward the system-level effects of a set of assumptions about agent behavior and a given environment. What kinds of real social phenomena are amenable to treatment by the techniques of agent-based modeling? David O'Sullivan and his …

Political polarization?

Is the American electorate "polarized" with regard to sets of political issues? McCarty, Rosenthal, and Poole accept the common view that we have in fact become more polarized in our politics over the past twenty years, and they offer an interesting theory of what is causing this polarization in Polarized America: The Dance of Ideology and …

Does the microfoundations principle imply reductionism?

My philosophy of social science has always and consistently maintained the idea that social facts depend on the activities and beliefs of individuals. There is no social "stuff" that exists independently from individual actors. I have encapsulated that idea in the form of the "microfoundations" principle: any claim about the characteristics or causal powers of …

Microfoundations and meso causation

I take the view that social causation requires microfoundations. And I hold that meso causal explanations are legitimate. How are these two views compatible?The key is the role that we expect reasoning about micro-level events to play in the explanation itself. The various versions of methodological individualism -- microeconomics, analytical sociology, Elster's theories of explanation, …

Neighborhood effects as meso-causes

A very interesting and current sociological study of "meso"-social causation can be found in the literature on neighborhood effects over the past 15 years or so. Robert Sampson and various colleagues have offered striking new analyses and arguments that establish the importance of geo-social neighborhoods on the occurrence of a variety of important social behaviors. …

Causal pathways through Coleman’s boat

image: illustration in Luiz Carlos dos Santos Azevedo, "Developing a Performance Measurement System for a Public Organization: A Case Study of the Rio de Janeiro City Controller’s Office" (link) A key talisman in discussions about the relation between "macro" and "micro" is a famous diagram by James Coleman inFoundations of Social Theory.  The diagram is …

Neil Gross on mechanisms

Neil Gross offers a friendly amendment to the growing literature on social mechanisms within sociology in "A Pragmatist Theory of Social Mechanisms" (link). He offers general support for the framework, but criticizes the main efforts at specifying what a social mechanism is. (James Mahoney makes a major effort to capture the main formulations in "Beyond Correlational …

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