How are institutions sustained, reproduced, and changed?

Institutions are "supra-individual", in the sense that they establish a context of identity and mental-framework formation for all individuals, and they create the environment of choice for the current actions of individuals. Further, they exercise an influence that is beyond the control of any particular individual or group of individuals. But at the same time, …

Alternative social systems and individual wellbeing

Communism ... or Capitalism? A joke from Poland in the 1970s: "In capitalism it is a question of man's exploitation by man. In communism it is the reverse." A modern social system is an environment where millions of people find opportunities, develop their talents, express their beliefs, and earn their livings within the context of …

Explaining large historical change

Great events happen; people live through them; and both ordinary citizens and historians attempt to make sense of them. Examples of the kinds of events I have in mind include the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the USSR; the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1930s; the violent suppression of the Democracy …

Personalized power at the local level

How does government work? We often understand this question as one involving the institutions and actors within the Federal government. But there is a different zone of government and politics that is also very important in public life in the United States, the practical politics and exercise of power at the state and local levels. …

Social ontology of government

I am currently writing a book on the topic of the "social ontology of government". My goal is to provide a short treatment of the social mechanisms and entities that constitute the workings of government. The book will ask some important basic questions: what kind of thing is "government"? (I suggest it is an agglomeration …

Rational choice institutionalism

Where do institutions come from? And what kinds of social forces are at work to stabilize them once they are up and running?  These are questions that historical institutionalists like Kathleen Thelen have considered in substantial depth (link, link, link). But the rational-choice paradigm has also offered some answers to these questions as well. The basic …

Capitalism 2.0?

  Capitalism is one particular configuration of the economic institutions that define production and consumption in a society. It involves private ownership of firms and resources, and a system of wage labor through which individuals compete for jobs within the context of a labor market. In its nature it creates positions of substantial power for …

Coleman’s house-of-cards theory of structures

image: Henri Bonaventure Monnier, Crowded Restaurant 1860 image: James Coleman, Foundations of Social Theory, p. 245 James Coleman offers a skeptical position on the question of the reality of social structures in his landmark book, Foundations of Social Theory (1990). Coleman advocates for a view of research and theory in sociology that emphasizes the actions of …

Self-selection and “liberal” professions

Neil Gross stirred up a quite a storm a few years ago when he released a body of research findings on the political complexion of university professors. Conservative organizations and pundits have made hay by denouncing the supposed liberal bias of universities. Gross opens his most recent book, Why Are Professors Liberal and Why Do …

Saskia Sassen on austerity and social exclusion

  The previous post summarized some of Kathleen Thelen's thinking about the prospects for a more egalitarian capitalism in our future. Saskia Sassen offers a more negative view of the direction of the development of European capitalism in her most recent book, Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy. Here is a post in Open Democracy …

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