Large social forces?

We often analyze the world around us in terms of large social forces and trends -- globalization, the rise of ethnic identities, the spread of global capitalism, the rise of China as a coming super-power. These large forces are the "folk theories" through which we try to make sense of the world as it changes …

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 …

Social structures as causal factors

The continuing question here is this: how and through what mechanisms do various social entities exercise causal influence with respect to social outcomes? (This will also be relevant to the question: how does power work in a given society?) We think the Gulf Stream wields influence with respect to weather and climate change, but not …

The heterogeneous social: institutions

Populations and groups are inherently diverse; virtually any property that might be attached to an individual shows variance across the group. So we have to pay special attention to specifying what we mean when we ask for a "measurement" of a property of a group. This is the basic ontological fact that undergirds a critical …

The heterogeneous social: groups

A social whole -- the city of Chicago, for example -- is a densely various empirical reality. At virtually every level of scale there is variance with respect to social characteristics -- income, health status, ethnic or social identity, political adherence and preference, age, race, or occupation. Neighborhoods differ from each other -- but equally, …

Social knowledge: measurement of properties in diverse groups

When we gain knowledge about silver, DNA, or cholera, we can study virtually any samples of the item and arrive at a description of its properties and causal powers, and this description will correspond accurately to other instances as well. We learn about the type by learning about the individuals, and we don't have to …

Variation across a social identity

What does possession of a social identity come down to, for the individual? And how do identities vary across the population of people who possess this identity?First, let us stipulate that an identity is a feature of consciousness, an aspect of mentality. And let us stipulate further that an identity comes to one as a …

Who has a "social identity"?

Think about the multiple ways that "identity" comes into social life. We think we know what someone means when he says he is African-American, Southern, gen-X, and professional. But of course the reality is much more complex, both within the person and across the group. Each identity label brings with it a cluster of values …

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 …

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 …

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