Foundations of Social Theory / Edition 1

Foundations of Social Theory / Edition 1

by James Coleman

ISBN-10: 0674312260

ISBN-13: 9780674312265

Pub. Date: 08/28/1998

Publisher: Harvard

Combining principles of individual rational choice with a sociological conception of collective action, James Coleman recasts social theory in a bold new way. The result is a landmark in sociological theory, capable of describing both stability and change in social systems.

This book provides for the first time a sound theoretical foundation for linking the


Combining principles of individual rational choice with a sociological conception of collective action, James Coleman recasts social theory in a bold new way. The result is a landmark in sociological theory, capable of describing both stability and change in social systems.

This book provides for the first time a sound theoretical foundation for linking the behavior of individuals to organizational behavior and then to society as a whole. The power of the theory is especially apparent when Coleman analyzes corporate actors, such as large corporations and trade unions. He examines the creation of these institutions, collective decision making, and the processes through which authority is revoked in revolts and revolutions.

Coleman discusses the problems of holding institutions responsible for their actions as well as their incompatibility with the family. He also provides a simple mathematical analysis corresponding to and carrying further the verbal formulations of the theory. Finally, he generates research techniques that will permit quantitative testing of the theory.

From a simple, unified conceptual structure Coleman derives, through elegant chains of reasoning, an encompassing theory of society. It promises to be the most important contribution to social theory since the publication of Talcott Parsons' Structure of Social Action in 1936.

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Table of Contents


1. Metatheory: Explanation in Social Science

Explanation of the Behavior of Social Systems

Components of the Theory

Conceptions of the Relations between Micro and Macro Levels

Part I / Elementary Actions and Relations

2. Actors and Resources, Interest and Control

The Elements

Structures of Action

Social Exchange

Simple and Complex Relations

3. Rights to Act

What Are Rights?

How the Free-Rider Problem Is Reduced for Rights

How Does New Information Bring About a Change in the Allocation of Rights?

How Does a Right Change Hands?

Who Are the Relevant Others?

How Are Rights Partitioned, and How Might They Be?

4. Authority Relations

The Right to Control One's Own Actions

Vesting of Authority

Conjoint and Disjoint Authority Relations

Transfer of One Right or Two: Simple and Complex Authority Relations

Limitations on Authority


Authority without Intentional Exercise

5. Relations of Trust

The Placement of Trust

Actions of the Trustee

Multiple Trustors and Public-Goods Problems

Part II / Structures of Action

6. Systems of Social Exchange

What Is Money?

Media of Exchange in Social and Political Systems

Exchanges within Systems

7. From Authority Relations to Authority Systems

The Law of Agency

Sympathy and Identification: Affine Agents

Simple and Complex Authority Structures

The Internal Morality of an Authority System

8. Systems of Trust and Their Dynamic Properties

Mutual Trust

Intermediaries in Trust

Third-Party Trust

Large Systems Involving Trust

9. Collective Behavior

General Properties of Collective Behavior

Escape Panics

Bank and Stock Market Panics

Acquisitive Crazes

Contagious Beliefs

Hostile and Expressive Crowds

Fads and Fashions

Influence Processes in Purchasing Decisions, Voting, and Public Opinion

Specific Predictions about Collective Behavior

10. The Demand for Effective Norms

Examples of Norms and Sanctions

Distinctions among Norms

The First Condition: Externalities of Actions and the Demand for a Norm

What Constitutes Social Efficiency?

Systems of Norms

11. The Realization of Effective Norms

An Action-Rights Bank

Social Relationships in Support of Sanctions

Free Riding and Zeal

Heroic versus Incremental Sanctioning

How Are Sanctions Applied in Society?

Emergence of Norms about Voting

Internalization of Norms

12. Social Capital

Human Capital and Social Capital

Forms of Social Capital

Relative Quantities of Social Capital

The Public-Good Aspect of Social Capital

The Creation, Maintenance, and Destruction of Social Capital

Part III / Corporate Action

13. Constitutions and the Construction of Corporate Actors

Norms and Constitutions

Positive Social Theory

Change in a Disjoint Constitution: American High Schools An Optimal Constitution

Who Are the Elementary Actors?

14. The Problem of Social Choice

Partitioning of Rights to Indivisible Goods

Constitutional Issues in Partitioning Rights to Control Corporate Actions

Intellectual Puzzles concerning Social Choice

Emergent Processes and Institutions for Social Choice

Ethical Theory: How to Determine the Right Action

Executive Decision Making

Community Decision Making and Conflict

Characteristics of Noninstitutionalized Social Choice

15. From Individual Choice to Social Choice

The Problem of Independence from irrelevant Alternatives

Tournaments as Institutions for Social Choice

Multi-Stage versus Single-Stage Processes for Social Choice

The Nature of Rights in Social Choice

16. The Corporate Actor as a System of Action

Weberian Bureaucracy in Theory and Practice

The Format Organization as a Specification of Transactions

Modes of Maintaining Viability in Formal Organizations

Explicit and Implicit Constitutions

Structures That Link Interest and Control

General Principles for Optimizing the Corporate Actor's Internal Structure

The Changing Conception of the Corporation

17. Rights and Corporate Actors

Allocation of Corporate Rights and the Public-Goods

Problem 451 Exercise and Exchange of Rights

The Drift of Power toward Actors Having Usage Rights

Withdrawal of Usage Rights through Voice and Exit

18. Revoking Authority

Theories of Revolution

Comparative Macrosocial Research: Inequality, Economic Development, and Repressiveness

Ideology in Revolutions

A Theoretical Framework of Revolution

19. The Self

Problems Inherent in a Unitary Actor

Functional Components of the Self

The Dual Role of Interests

Processes of Change inside the Actor

Corporate Actors' Changes in Self

Part IV / Modern Society

20. Natural Persons and the New Corporate Actors

Individual Sovereignty

Changing Conceptions of Sovereignty

Emergence of Corporate Actors in Social Organization and Law

Examples of Interactions of Natural Persons and Corporate Actors

Types of Interactions Involving Corporate Actors and Persons

Displacement of Nature by Human Constructions

21. Responsibility of Corporate Actors

Responsible Actions of Natural Persons

Social Origins of Corporate Responsibility

Internal Changes and Corporate Responsibility

Tax Laws and Social Norms

Free-Rider Problems for Corporate Responsibility

Corporate Responsibility in Sum

What Conception of the Corporation Is Best for Natural Persons?

22. New Generations in the New Social Structure

The Conflict between the Family and the Corporation

Distribution of Income to Children in the New Social Structure

Consequences of the New Social Structure for Social Capital

The Direct Impact of the Two Social Structures on the Next Generation

23. The Relation of Sociology to Social Action in the New Social Structure

The Social Role of Social Theory

The World of Action and the World of the Discipline

The Structure of Society and the Nature of Applied Social Research

Applied Social Research and the Theory of Action

What Should Applied Social Research Be Like?

What Research Is Missing?

24. The New Social Structure and the New Social Science

The Replacement of Primordial Social Capital

Independent Viability, Global Viability, and Distribution in the New Social Structure

Modes of Organizing Action

Nation-States versus Multinational Corporations, or Voice versus Exit

The New Social Science

Part V / The Mathematics of Social Action

25. The Linear System of Action

Two-Person Exchange System with Divisible Goods

Restrictions on the Utility Function

Beyond a Two-Person System of Action

The Competitive Equilibrium and the Linear System of Action

Further Derivations and Use of the Model

Economic and Psychological Properties of the Utility Function

Open Systems

Appendix: An Iterative Method tar Solving for r or v Given X and C

26. Empirical Applications

Estimation of Value with Perfect-Market Assumptions

Estimation of Value When There Are Two Resources and More Than Two Actors

Estimation of Value When There Are More Than Two Resources

Arbitrary Zero Points for Resources

Sampling and the Importance of the Population and Resource Distributions

Estimation of Interests

27. Extensions of the Theory

A Perfect Social System

Psychic Investment

Dependence of Events

Partitioned Systems of Action

Losses in Exchange between Actors and between Resources

28. Trust in a Linear System of Action

Introducing Mistrust into a System

Lack of Complete Trust in Larger Systems

29. Power, the Micro-to-Macro Transition, and Interpersonal Comparison of Utility

Interpersonal Comparison

Cardinal Utility

Power, through a Market and Otherwise

30. Externalities and Norms in a Linear System of Action

When Will Actions Having Externalities Be Taken? The Coase Theorem Revisited

Externalities and Level of Affluence

What Is Meant by Efficiency?

The Rationality of Norms

31. Indivisible Events, Corporate Actors, and Collective Decisions

When Will Control of Events Be Collectivized?

The Constitutional Stage

The Postconstitutional Stage

Social Choice by Various Decision Rules


32. Dynamics of the Linear System of Action

Exchange with Two Actors and Two Resources

Change in Resources Held by One Actor

Movement of a Resource among Actors

Logical Constraints on Transition Rates in Pairwise Exchange Systems

A Description of the Path of Values: Walrasian Adjustment

Dynamics of Systems with Social-Structural Barriers

How Do Power of Actors and Values of Events Change?

33. Unstable and Transient Systems of Action

Single-Contingency and Double-Contingency Collective Behavior

Transfer of Control in Single-Contingency Panics

Double-Contingency Panics

Evolution of Strategies

34. The Internal Structure of Actors

Event Outcomes as Actions of a Corporate Actor

Corporate Outcomes and Public-Good Problems

The Value of Resources and the Interests of a Corporate Actor

Subjective and Objective Interests of a Corporate Actor

The Internal Structure of Persons as Actors


Name Index

Subject Index

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