Trust networks

Chuck Tilly had a fascination with the mechanisms of social interaction at all levels.  His 2005 book, Trust and Rule, picks up on one particular feature of social organization that is often instrumental in political and social episodes, including especially in the everyday workings of predation and defense.  This is the idea of a trust network: a group of people connected by similar ties and interests whose “collective enterprise is at risk to the malfeasance, mistakes, and failures of individual members” (chapter 1, kindle loc 186). Here is a definition:

Trust networks, then, consist of ramified interpersonal connections, consisting mainly of strong ties, within which people set valued, consequential, long-term resources and enterprises at risk to the malfeasance, mistakes, or failures of others. (chapter 1, kindle loc 336)

A band of pirates, a group of tax resisters, or a village of non-conformists in a period of religious persecution fall in the category of trust networks.  The stakes are high for all participants.  On the other hand, the American Medical Association, the League of Women Voters, and the pickpockets who work the Gare St Lazare train station do not represent trust networks, though they have the properties of social action networks more generally.  There is little real risk for any particular physician even if other members of the AMA don’t play their parts in a lobbying campaign.  The willingness of members of the extended group to commit their own actions to a risky common effort depends on their level of trust in other members — trust that they will make their own contributions to the collective enterprise, and trust that they will not betray their comrades.  (French historian Marc Bloch belonged to a trust network, the French Resistance, that led to his death in 1944 by the Gestapo; link.)

The general idea is that there are numerous examples of networks of people who share substantial interests in common, and who have a high level of trust in one another that permits them to undertake risky joint activities.  Here is a more complete statement of Tilly’s conception:

How will we recognize a trust network when we encounter or enter one?  First, we will notice a number of people who are connected, directly or indirectly, by similar ties; they form a network.  Second, we will see that the sheer existence of such a tie gives one member significant claims on the attention or aid of another; the network consists of strong ties.  Third, we will discover that members of the network are collectively carrying on major long-term enterprises such as procreation, long-distance trade, workers’ mutual aid or practice of an underground religion.  Finally, we will learn that the configuration of ties within the network sets the collective enterprise at risk to the malfeasance, mistakes, and failures of individual members. (chapter 1, kindle loc 186)

Trust networks are particularly relevant in the context of efforts at violent extraction and domination — both on the side of predators and prey.  Predators — bandits, pirates, and gangs — need to establish strong ties within their organizations in order to be able to effectively coerce their targets and to escape repression by others.  And prey — farmers in ranch country, rural Jews in Poland, or home owners in central Newark — are advantaged by the existence of strong ties of family, religion, or ethnicity through which they can maintain the collective strategies that provide some degree of protection.  But Tilly makes the interesting point that the workings of trust networks cross over both contentious and noncontentious activities.  Here is a general statement that frames much of Tilly’s discussion in the book:

Noncontentious politics still make up the bulk of all political interaction, since it includes tax collection, census taking, military service, diffusion of political information, processing of government-mediated benefits, internal organizational activity of constituted political actors, and related processes that go on most of the time without discontinous, public, collective claim making.  Trust networks and their segments get involved in noncontentious politics more regularly — and usually more consequently — than in contentious politics. (chapter 1, Kindle loc 208) 

The idea of a trust network represents a different way of getting a handle on the contrast between self-interested agency and group-oriented agency, which in turn corresponds to “economistic” and “sociological” approaches to social behavior.  Is it interests or norms that guide social behavior?  By introducing the idea of a trust network, Tilly is able to find a position someplace else on the spectrum — neither purely self-interested behavior nor routine normative conformance.  Instead, agents within trust networks behave as purposive, goal-directed actors; but they have commitments and resources that people in other social settings lack, and they are thereby enabled to achieve forms of collective action that are impossible elsewhere.  We might say that Tilly is offering an account of the microfoundations of collective action, or of a certain kind of collective action.

In line with Tilly’s lifelong interest in taxation and state-building, the idea of resource extraction plays a central role in his analysis of trust networks.  A central theme is the struggle between the tax-collecting state and the elusive, tax-evading trust networks that exist in civil society.  “Rulers have usually coveted the resources embedded in such networks, have often treated them as obstacles to effective rule, yet have never succeeded in annihilating them and have usually worked out accommodations producing enough resources and compliance to sustain their regimes” (kindle loc 229).

It is interesting to connect this dialectic of predation and evasion with the arguments Jim Scott puts forward in The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia (link).  Part of the effectiveness of the highland peoples of Burma in Scott’s account is the density of their social relationships and a consequent ability to sustain a degree of collective resistance that would be impossible in a less dense society.  And, in fact, Tilly’s analysis of the tactical situation of a trust network subject to the superior coercive power of some other entity is enlightening in Scott’s story as well.  Consider these avenues that Tilly advances as collective strategies for protecting a given trust network against the pressures of the surrounding state: concealment, dissimulation, clientage, predation, enlistment into the regime, bargaining, and dissolution (chapter 2, kindle loc 794).  We can find examples of each of these strategies in Scott’s analysis of Burma.  More pointedly, we can see instances of almost all these strategies in the current conflicts between the Burmese junta and the cease-fire groups such as the Kachin Independence Organization (link, link).

So what kind of analysis is Tilly offering here?  What is the use of this concept from the point of view of the social sciences, beyond the metaphor and analytical specifics? Are there concrete historical or sociological hypotheses in play?  Does this concept provide a better basis for explaining some puzzling outcomes than existing theories?  Or, possibly, is the concept of a trust network another example of a part of the sociologist’s toolkit: an ideal-typical description of a real social mechanism whose workings can be discerned in a variety of contexts?

Tilly is relatively explicit about several of these questions.  To start: he does not believe that “trust networks” constitute a homogeneous social kind.  We cannot offer a general account of the essential features of a trust network (kindle loc 823).  We can do a certain amount of classification within the group of social configurations that we call “trust networks”.  So “trust networks” are socially real, and we can use ordinary methods of social and historical inquiry to map out some of their properties.

Further, he believes, we can state some mid-level regularities about trust networks and political regimes: for example,

  • Trust networks survive and hold off predators when they generate enough resources to reproduce themselves;
  •  trust networks are absorbed into systems of rule when existing autonomous trust networks disintegrate or cease to provide substantial benefits; 
  • variations in the kinds of trust networks that exist help explain the variety of the consolidation of rule that occurs in given settings. (loc 1096)
  • trust networks that mark, maintain, and monitor sharp boundaries between insiders and outsiders generally operate more effectively than others (loc 1238)
  • trust networks most commonly defend themselves from predation by adopting some combination of the strategies of concealment, clientage, and dissimulation (loc 1724)

Another important question is the role of evidence in this treatment.  Tilly offers dozens of examples of significant historical instances of trust networks at work — as predators, as prey, and as potential subjects of extractive rule.  And we can ask this question: what is the evidentiary value of the examples?  Are they merely illustrative?  Do they serve to pinpoint some of the specifics of discrete social mechanisms?  Or are they more like suggestive heuristic cases that may point us in the direction of a more developed theory?

I think that Tilly’s view would be something close to the second option here: the examples are valuable and insightful because they provide relatively transparent instances in which the mechanisms are fully exposed. They are a bit like the observations of “animalcules” through van Leeuwenhoek’s microscope: glimpses of an underlying mechanism that proves to be an important constituent of more macro-level processes.

At the same time, the analysis doesn’t add up to a “theory” of trust networks; it is more analogous to descriptive ecology than it is to the theory of the gene.  When Darwin documents the variety of finches in the Galapagos Islands, or when Wallace painstakingly describes the myriad distinct species of beetles he finds in the jungles of the Malay archipelago, each is involved in a kind of scientific work that stands between pure description and explanatory theorizing.  And this seems to be roughly where Tilly’s dissection of trust networks falls as well.

It is also interesting to consider whether there are important examples of trust networks in the world today.  And it seems clear that there are.  The situation of the ethnic movements in contemporary Burma is one good example.  Domestic terror groups and right-wing militias provide another clear set of examples.  The American Civil Rights movement, the Freedom Riders, and SNCC’s organizing efforts offer another good set of examples as well (link).  So the concept of a trust network is in fact a valuable contribution to the study of collective action and social mobilization.

Everyday social interactions


It is apparent that there are patterns in the ordinary social interactions between individuals in various societies. Whether and how to greet an acquaintance or a stranger, how close people stand together, how loudly people speak, what subjects they turn to in idle social conversation, how conflict is handled — all of these topics and more seem to have specific and nuanced answers in various specific social environments. And it seems likely enough that there are persistent differences at this level of social behavior across cities, gender, race, and class.

So is there room for social science in this domain of social behavior? And what sorts of concepts and theories help us in trying to characterize this type of social behavior?

On the first question, there is no doubt that there are researchers and traditions that have addressed exactly these sorts of questions. Erving Goffman’s writings are most directly relevant (for example, Behavior in Public Places: Notes on the Social Organization of Gatherings), and urban anthropologists and sociologists are often interested in micro-descriptions of social behaviors as well — for example, William Foote Whyte’s Street Corner Society: The Social Structure of an Italian Slum or Elliott Liebow’s Tally’s Corner: A Study of Negro Streetcorner Men.

Here is one of Goffman’s descriptions of his goals:

By and large, the psychiatric study of situational improprieties has led to studying the offender rather than the rules and social circles that are offended. Through such studies, however, psychiatrists have inadvertently made us more aware of an important area of social life — that of behavior in public and sempublic places. Although this has not been recognized as a special domain for sociological inquiry, it perhaps should be, for rules of conduct in streets, parks, restaurants, theaters, shops, dance floors, meeting halls, and other gathering places of any community tell us a great deal about its most diffuse forms of social organization.

Sociology does not provide a ready framework that can order these data, let alone show comparisons and continuities with behavior in private gathering places such as offices, factory floors, living rooms, and kitchens. To be sure, one part of “collective behavior” — riots, crowds, panics — has been established as something to study. But the remaining part of the area, the study of ordinary human traffic and the patterning of ordinary social contacts, has been little considered. … It is the object of this report to try to develop such a framework. (Behavior in Public Places, 3-4)

The school of ethnomethodology also attempts to provide this kind of detailed observation and description. This approach is illustrated, for example, by Harold Garfinkel’s descriptions of the procedures embodied in the practices of professional accountants or lawyers in Studies in Ethnomethodology. A major objective of the method is to arrive at an interpretation of the rules that underlie everyday activity and thus constitute part of the normative basis of a given social order. Research from this perspective generally focuses on mundane forms of social activity–e.g. psychiatrists evaluating patients’ files, jurors deliberating on defendants’ culpability, or coroners judging cause of death. The investigator then attempts to reconstruct an underlying set of rules and ad hoc procedures that may be taken to have guided the observed activity. The approach emphasizes the contextuality of social practice–the richness of unspoken shared understandings that guide and orient participants’ actions in a given practice or activity.

So there is quite a bit of work in anthropology and sociology that chooses to provide careful observation and description of concrete social behavior.

But there is a more fundamental question to ask: in what sense is this research scientific? What would a scientific study of the patterns of face-to-face social behavior need to provide? And why would this subject be of genuine interest from a scientific point of view?

One feature that stands out in the work of Goffman, Whyte, Liebow, or Garfinkel is the commitment of these observers to careful, detailed observation and description of social behavior. They are interested in capturing the nuances of ordinary behavior, and their research reports give a great deal of emphasis to the importance of providing detailed descriptions of ordinary social interactions. And in fact, it seems very reasonable to say that this body of descriptions is itself scientifically valuable and intellectually challenging, perhaps in some of the ways that the careful observations and descriptions produced by Darwin or Wallace in the Galapagos or Malaysia are scientifically important. Here the standard of scientific value is empirical: it is very important for the observer to “get it right” — to accurately observe and record the fine differences in behavior that are embedded in the social contexts that are observed. (See an earlier posting on the subject of descriptive social science.)

But we can also discern a second scientific objective at work in these kinds of writings, either directly or indirectly — the goal of arriving at an explanation of the patterns of behavior that are uncovered through this micro-descriptive work. Any body of phenomena that demonstrates consistent patterns over time is potentially of scientific interest, because the observable patterns imply an underlying causal order that ought to be discoverable. And this is the more true if there are stable differences in the patterns across contexts. If there are very specific patterns of behavior in these mundane situations of social encounter, how are we to explain that fact? What sort of structure or fact could count as a cause of these patterns of behavior?

One particularly appealing approach to explanation in these circumstances is to make an inference from behavior to rules that is familiar from Chomsky’s view of generative linguistics — from patterned behavior to the underlying “grammar” or system of rules and mental paradigms that produces it. So we might go a bit beyond Goffman’s own description of his work, and say that his detailed descriptions of social behavior invite him to reconstruct the underlying and psychologically real set of rules that “generate” the behavior. Here we are invited to consider the social actor as possessing a “grammar” of ordinary behavior that guides the production of actions in specified circumstances. And in fact this interpretation of the intellectual project of this work seems pretty consistent with Garfinkel’s approaches.

There is a third angle that one might take on this work — that it is a part of “interpretive” social science; that the descriptive work is an effort to provide an interpretation of the meanings of the actions described. This doesn’t seem quite right in application to the works mentioned here, however. Goffman’s work or Whyte’s descriptions aren’t exactly hermeneutic; instead, they are guided by an effort to discern and capture the smallest nuances of behavior, with an eye to discovering the underlying rules that appear to generate the behavior. The orientation of the work is not so much directed to underlying meanings as it is to underlying rules.

In short, it seems to me that the careful observation and description of the subtle complexities of ordinary social behavior is in fact a valuable contribution to a scientific understanding of the social world — even though it is primarily descriptive. The patterns of behavior that Goffman, White, or Liebow document are a genuine and novel contribution to our knowledge of the concrete social world. And these contributions to descriptive sociology can be fitted into next-generation efforts to provide explanatory contexts that would make sense of the patterns that these researchers document.

Was Alexis de Tocqueville a social scientist?

Alexis de Tocqueville is sometimes counted among the founding influences in modern sociology — one of the intellectual progenitors of the discipline in the 1830s-50s.  An aristocrat in post-revolutionary France, de Tocqueville played several roles  in his life: historian, politician, traveler, and social observer.   My question here is a specific one: in what ways did Tocqueville’s writings and thinking make an important contribution to sociology?  And is there anything in his writings that can serve as an important angle of view today as we consider new approaches to sociology?

Tocqueville’s relevance to sociology derives from at least three features of his thinking: his enormous interest in social observation — in France, in Britain, in Algeria, and in America; his historical approach to understanding society — the importance of placing contemporary changes into a historical context; and his causal and comparative imagination — his desire to discover the causes of some of the patterns and differences he discerned in comparable societies.  

I suppose that the books that brought him the greatest recognition reflect these three features of his intellectual persona.  Democracy in America combines his appetite for discovering and describing the small but telling details of a society — the features that mark it as an individual distinct from other contemporary societies, along with an interest in discovering the causes and effects of large features of the societies he observed.  This is an intriguing combination of the particular and the general, the small and the large in a modern society.  (This feature of his sociological imagination makes me think most of Simon Schama’s historical writing — for example, in Landscape And Memory.)  On the side of explanation, Tocqueville was interested in finding the ways in which environment, morality, and civic arrangements combined to produce distinctive patterns of behavior and modes of thought; these become large causal factors in his writings, to which he attributes some of the distinctive features of American values and behavior. And he singled out large features of American society for special study — democracy, town and village life, the relations among the classes of society, the workings of education, and the workings of American market institutions. 

The Ancien Regime and the Revolution illustrates Tocqueville’s historical imagination and his effort to place the largest event of the century — the French Revolution — into a context of moral and civic factors that combined to make the revolution inevitable.   And other lesser books, such as his Recollections of 1848, reflect a combination of these interests in the particular details of a social event with an effort to provide a causal analysis of the way in which it unfolds — the revolutionary upheavals in Paris in 1848.  (These are, of course, the same upheavals to which Marx referred in the Communist Manifesto as the “spectre that is haunting Europe.”)  It is very interesting to contrast Tocqueville’s first-hand observations of the June days of the revolution of 1848, including especially the bloodshed against the workers of Paris, with Marx’s more theoretical writings about the same short period of time in The Civil War in France.  And it is interesting as well to note that Tocqueville was by no means a neutral observer of these events — any more than Marx was.  Tocqueville was a partisan, supportive of the repression inflicted by the state in the name of order.  This too is of some interest when we consider Tocqueville’s relation to the founding of sociology.

But in the end, I think it is not a mistake to conclude that Tocqueville brought an important set of ideas to contemporary sociology — the effort to create a scientific understanding of the modern world.  All of the features identified here — a passion for close observation and description, an interest in the discovery of social causes, an imagination that proceeds through comparison and contrast, and a framework of thought that emphasizes the importance of history — are in fact useful intellectual components for contemporary sociology.  Tocqueville’s conservative view of the world certainly interacted with his observations and recommendations.  His was certainly not “dispassionate” or value-free social science. But at the same time, we might consider whether a Tocqueville in Shanghai today might not discover some pretty interesting details, processes, and mechanisms that could contribute a deeper sociology of China.  And the fact that Tocqueville’s thinking did not proceed from the naturalism that motivated others of the founders — Comte, Spencer, and Durkheim, for example — is on the positive side of the balance sheet as well.  Tocqueville did not operate on the assumption that there must be a single underlying law that explains the processes that he observed in Manchester, Boston, or Algiers; instead, he was content to observe the diversity of the social phenomena he discovered and to tease out some possible, historically limited causal hypotheses about how these historically specific phenomena might work.  

So as we reconsider the intellectual composition of the discipline of sociology, it is worthwhile reconsidering Tocqueville.

Biography and personality psychology

Think about the relationship between researching a biography of a complex individual and compiling a set of theories about personality development. The individual, Mr. X, is a particular person whose life and personality took shape through a long series of contingent happenings. The biographer’s task is to arrive at some insights into Mr. X’s motivations and desires; his features of character (courage, magnanimity); his weaknesses; as well as providing an illuminating account of some of the shaping events and choices that Mr. X made along the way. Mr. X’s actions and choices are comprehensible — but in order to understand them we need to know what he thought, wanted, intended, resisted, and chose, and why. In other words, we need a fairly detailed profile of Mr. X’s personality, preferences, and vanities. We need to know Mr. X as a particular and unique person.

Now it is worth commenting that this biographical description is itself a generalization. When we write that “Mr. X was concerned about how his actions were perceived, and often acted out of a desire to put his actions in a good light” — we are making a generalization across Mr. X’s lifetime of choices. And we are also hypothesizing something not directly observable — a persistent feature of Mr. X’s subjective world of choosing, his self-consciousness. In the course of the biography we might make statements such as “Mr. X chose to stay in his job at the New York Times because it was very prestigious; whereas Ms. Y was more adventurous in her career and moved to Slate.com.” This comparison implies that both X and Y have persistent traits of personality — traits that led them to make different choices under similar circumstances.

So a biography is a compilation of several different kinds of assertions or observations: some of the things that happened to the subject, some of the actions and choices the subject made, some hypotheses about the subject’s personality and motivational system, and an interpretation of the causes and reasons of some of these choices. The biography asserts a degree of consistency over time — Mr. X can be counted on to behave similarly in circumstances that raise the same intra-personal issues — even as it documents the particularity and uniqueness of Mr. X in contrast to other persons in similar circumstances. So a biography combines particularity and a certain kind of generality.

Now consider a textbook in personality psychology. The textbook too is interested in explaining why people behave as they do. But it approaches the problem from the point of view of taxonomy, causal analysis, and generalized explanations. The taxonomy part comes in through the effort to describe a handful of personality “types” — individuals sharing a cluster of personality characteristics that make them similar in action to each other and different from others. The causal analysis comes in through the door of a set of hypotheses about what constitutes a personality; how features of personality are embodied in the individual; how they are cultivated or shaped through development; and how they manifest in patterns of action. And the generalized explanations enter in the form of statements about groups of people sharing common personality features: “Ethnic massacres often occur as a result of manipulation of group emotions through the media.” The task of the theories of personality psychology is to provide a basis for explaining behavior; but unlike biography, personality psychology singles out the common features of personality that are found in a whole group of actors.

Now, if the classification exercise could be done in a really successful way — so that we conclude that there are personality types A, B, and C, and here are the behavioral dispositions of the three types — then biography would be unnecessary. All we need to know is whether Mr. X is an A, a B, or a C. In fact, however, we know that people are more varied than this. At best the small handful of personality types associated with personality theory can be construed as ideal types, pure versions of the various hypotheses; but we will also understand that very few people exactly embody exactly one of these ideal types. Instead, people’s motivations and personalities are a blend of numerous currents; and the role of biography is to identify these particular confluences in the subject of interest.

This is an interesting contrast for the social sciences, because there is a parallel distinction in the description and analysis of social particulars. Sometimes social scientists are primarily interested in stripping the “individuals” they consider (wars, revolutions, cities) down to a small list of characteristics about which they attempt to arrive at generalizations. And sometimes they are interested in treating the “individual” as a complex particular with its own life history and personality. The urban geographer may want to consider all United States cities with more than 500,000 inhabitants as a group, and then to arrive at some hypotheses and generalizations about this set of cities. This is analogous to the personality psychology of the distinction. Or the urban geographer may want to focus in on the particular identity and persona of one city — Chicago — and treat it as a biographer might treat Franklin D. Roosevelt. Both approaches are legitimate. The second, however, is perhaps undervalued in the social sciences because of its particularity. As discussed in the previous posting, however, there are good reasons for thinking that understanding the richness of empirical detail of a city like Chicago is itself a worthwhile sociological task.

Social description as science

Descriptive research and writing in the social sciences is generally looked at with a degree of condescension. The complaint is that science should be explanatory, and descriptive work is both shallow and trivial. We can almost hear the doctoral supervisor responding to the candidate who has spent a year in primary research in the field and in tax offices in Indonesia, producing a finely detailed descriptive study of how the fiscal institutions actually work across levels and regions: “That’s well and good, but what do you make of your findings? What patterns have you discovered? Why do the variations you’ve documented occur as they do? Where’s your theory?”

The “shallow and trivial” criticism is unfounded and unjust. Our talented field researcher will have found an enormous and surprising range of variation among the institutions and practices he has studied. And these variations cannot be inferred from some general theory of fiscal institutions. They must be discovered and documented on the ground. Further, we can’t come up with any useful theory of institutions in the absence of some rigorous, concrete, and particular descriptions of a variety of institutions. We need the complexity and texture of good, rigorous description to help produce genuinely explanatory theories. (Robert Klitgaard’s treatment of corruption fits this description nicely; Controlling Corruption.)

So detailed descriptive research is important — because the social world is unruly and varied, and there is no single rule or law that generates this diversity; and it is difficult, in that it requires extensive and disciplined efforts at observation and discovery. Moreover, descriptive research is theoretical in one important respect: deciding upon the features of the phenomena that are worth recording is itself the result of preliminary hunches about what is salient or significant. (Of course there is no such thing as pure description.)

At the same time, the critic is right in one important respect: having documented variation in practices and local implementation of the basic fiscal institutions, it is quite reasonable to expect the researcher to try to find some explanations of this variation. Our graduate student now needs to reconsider the manuscript and try to determine whether any of the variation and particularity makes sense from the point of view of known social mechanisms. Why did the Indonesian fiscal system evolve into the variegated structure it now consists of? And this is where social theory is most useful — not as a grand explanatory scheme, but as many small bits of theory capturing some relevant features of behavior and institution-building in these particular circumstances. So, for example, our graduate student may notice that principal-agent problems are endemic in fiscal institutions. Given that taxes are being assessed and paid, all the participants have some motivation to subvert the process. So it may be that some observed variants can be explained as strategic efforts to solve principal-agent problems. Or as another example — limited and unreliable forms of communication may exist in some parts of the country under study, and features of the fiscal system in these under-served regions may have been selected because they are less reliant on swift, accurate communication.

Maybe this gives a basis for assessing the role of descriptive inquiry in the social sciences.

  • Because social phenomena are heterogeneous and plastic, there is an important and enduring role for careful descriptive inquiry. The task of discovering and documenting the variety and diversity of social phenomena is both important and intellectually challenging.
  • Because social phenomena emerge from purposive human agency, there are an open-ended number of social mechanisms that are potentially relevant to the diversity that is discovered.
  • And because we are ultimately interested in explaining as much variation as we can, it is desirable to bring those theoretical widgets to bear on various elements of the diversity that is discovered in the descriptive research.

And, finally, it is unrealistic to imagine that either description or theorizing can be conducted solely independently. Instead, description requires theorizing and conceptualizing, and theorizing requires some accurate descriptions of the world to work with. As Kant wrote in a different context, “Concepts without percepts are empty, percepts without concepts are blind.”

(As I imagine the hypothetical example above I think of Alfred Russel Wallace’s fine and detailed descriptions of the flora and fauna of the Malay archipelago, and the role that this detailed natural history played in the formation of his own and Darwin’s theories of natural selection. The purpose of the theory was to find some degree of order in the intricate diversity of the biological domain. But the biology of species had a major advantage over the sociology of institutions and practices: there was in fact only one governing mechanism, random variation and selection, so it was possible to encompass the full range of observed diversity under a single ecological theory. The case is different in the social world because there are multiple independent causes leading to social differentiation.)

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