What kind of thing is a religion?

The idea of a religion is apparently a very familiar one. It is a set of beliefs about the sacred shared by a group of people. It embodies some fundamental norms that guide and constrain believers' conduct. It is a potent social force that can determine the outcomes of presidential elections.But notice the many complexities …

Methodological localism

How do social causes work? Some social theorists have treated social constructs as unified macro-entities with their own causal powers. Structuralist theories maintain things like "capitalism causes people to value consuming more than family time" or "democracy causes social cohesion." Likewise, some theorists have held that moral systems and cultures cause distinctive patterns of behavior--"Confucian …

More on "plasticity": hospitals

Let's think more about the extent and pace of plasticity in social organization by considering an example: hospitals. Hospitals are complex social organizations geared towards providing health care for moderately to very needy patients. And the internal organization of hospitals provides a fertile locus for examining issues of institutional change.The complexity of a hospital derives …

Why "false consciousness"?

The most frequently visited page on my research web site (out of more than 90 articles) is an encyclopedia article on false consciousness. Moreover, many of these visitors come from the developing world, including especially the Philippines. I am curious about these facts.False consciousness is a Marxist concept. It refers to the hypothesis that oppressed …

What is "power" in the twenty-first century?

Is "power" different in the twenty-first century?Is power the same as "ability to influence behavior"?Do the internet and new forms of communication and social networking create new opportunities for power--for good or bad purposes?Think about the ways power was created and used in the nineteenth or twentieth centuries: the power of the state to regulate …

Human behavior and institutions

Ultimately social phenomena are the aggregate result of the behavior of socially constituted persons who are acting within the context of locally embodied institutions. If there are regularities within the social realm, they derive from common features of individual agency, common features of institutions, and common processes of aggregation of effects.This implies that social scientists …

Plasticity of the social

I maintain that virtually all social entities are "plastic": their properties change significantly over time, as a result of the purposive and unintentional behavior of the socially constructed individuals who make up a society. Organizations, labor unions, universities, churches, and social identities all show a substantial degree of flexibility and fluidity over time, and this …

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