System Effects: Complexity in Political and Social Life

Overview

Based on more than three decades of observation, Robert Jervis concludes in this book that the very foundation of many social science theories - especially those in political science - are faulty. Taking insights from complexity theory as his point of departure, the author observes that we live in a world where things are interconnected, where unintended consequences of our actions are unavoidable and unpredictable, and where the total effect of behavior is not equal to the sum of individual actions. Jervis draws...
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Overview

Based on more than three decades of observation, Robert Jervis concludes in this book that the very foundation of many social science theories - especially those in political science - are faulty. Taking insights from complexity theory as his point of departure, the author observes that we live in a world where things are interconnected, where unintended consequences of our actions are unavoidable and unpredictable, and where the total effect of behavior is not equal to the sum of individual actions. Jervis draws on a wide range of human endeavors to illustrate the nature of these system effects. He shows how increasing airport security might actually cost lives, not save them, and how removing dead trees (ostensibly to give living trees more room) may damage the health of an entire forest. Similarly, he highlights the interconnectedness of the political world as he describes how the Cold War played out and as he narrates the series of events - with their unintended consequences - that escalated into World War I.
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Editorial Reviews

The Atlantic Monthly - Steven M. Walt
Drawing on a diverse body of scholarly research and a wealth of illuminating examples, Jervis shows that 'system effects' are an important and often overlooked part of social and political life.... His insights will capture the imagination of those who puzzle over other social problems as well.... Viewed as a whole, System Effects offers a sobering and valuable moral.
The Times Literary Supplement - Zygmunt Bauman
There are few doubts that System Effects is an important and timely book, one that should be studied closely not only by Foreign Offices, but by all people faced with the task of making decisions while uncertain about the consequences of alternative actions—and such people make a very large readership indeed.
From the Publisher
Co-Winner of the 1998 Best Book Award, Political Psychology Section of the American Political Science Association

Winner of the 1998 Lionel Trilling Award, Columbia University

Honorable Mention for the 1997 Award for Best Professional/Scholarly Book in Government and Political Science, Association of American Publishers

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 1998

"Drawing on a diverse body of scholarly research and a wealth of illuminating examples, Jervis shows that 'system effects' are an important and often overlooked part of social and political life.... His insights will capture the imagination of those who puzzle over other social problems as well.... Viewed as a whole, System Effects offers a sobering and valuable moral."—Steven M. Walt, The Atlantic Monthly

"There are few doubts that System Effects is an important and timely book, one that should be studied closely not only by Foreign Offices, but by all people faced with the task of making decisions while uncertain about the consequences of alternative actions—and such people make a very large readership indeed."—Zygmunt Bauman, The Times Literary Supplement

The Atlantic Monthly
Drawing on a diverse body of scholarly research and a wealth of illuminating examples, Jervis shows that 'system effects' are an important and often overlooked part of social and political life.... His insights will capture the imagination of those who puzzle over other social problems as well.... Viewed as a whole, System Effects offers a sobering and valuable moral.
— Steven M. Walt
The Times Literary Supplement
There are few doubts that System Effects is an important and timely book, one that should be studied closely not only by Foreign Offices, but by all people faced with the task of making decisions while uncertain about the consequences of alternative actions—and such people make a very large readership indeed.
— Zygmunt Bauman
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691026244
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 8/4/1997
  • Pages: 328
  • Product dimensions: 6.36 (w) x 9.54 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
One Introduction
Definitions and Illustrations
WE CAN NEVER DO MERELY ONE THING
Emergent Properties
Interconnections
KINDS OF INTERCONNECTIONS
Games against Nature Are Not Games against Nature
Two System Effects
Indirect and Delayed Effects
Relations Are Often Not Bilaterally
Determined
Interactions, Not Additivity
FIRST INTERACTIONS: RESULTS CANNOT BE PREDICTED FROM THE SEPARATE ACTIONS
SECOND INTERACTIONS: STRATEGIES DEPEND ON THE STRATEGIES OF OTHERS
THIRD INTERACTIONS: BEHAVIOR CHANGES THE ENVIRONMENT
Products of Interaction as the Unit of Analysis
Circular Effects
Outcomes Do Not Follow from Intentions
A QUALIFICATION
Regulation
Implications for Testing and Method
POWER
CAUSES AND EFFECTS
TESTING PROPOSITIONS
YARDSTICKS AND INDICATORS
Three Systemic Theories of International Politics
What Are the Variables?
STABILITY
Both Dependent and Independent Variables Systemic
System as the Dependent Variable
System as the Independent Variable
Waltz
WALTZ'S CONCEPT OF STRUCTURE
WHAT WALTZ'S THEORY CAN EXPLAIN
Structural versus Behavioral Polarity
BIPOLARITY AND STABILITY: IGNORING THE PERIPHERIES AND OVERREACTING TO THEM
STRUCTURE AND NUCLEAR WEAPONS
Four Feedback
Types of Feedback
DEBATES ABOUT FEEDBACKS
Balance of Power
AN ALTERNATIVE VIEW--IS IT SYSTEMIC?
ANTICIPATION OF THE OPERATION OF BALANCE OF POWER
Negative Feedback That Resembles Balance of Power
Other Forms of Negative Feedback
SELF-LIMITING SUCCESS
INFORMATION, INFERENCES, AND PSYCHOLOGY
Positive Feedback
PROCESSES AND AREAS OF POSITIVE FEEDBACK
Information and Expectations
Tipping
Consensus Effects
Competition
Power
POSITIVE FEEDBACK AND PATH
DEPENDENCE--THE BIG IMPACT OF SMALL ADVANTAGES
OTHER AREAS OF POSITIVE FEEDBACK
DOMINO DYNAMICS
Reputation
General Validity of the Domino Theory
Conditions under Which Domino Effects Are
Likely
SPIRALS AS POSITIVE FEEDBACK
Balance of Power, Dominoes, and Spirals: Feedback and Force
Five Relations, Alternatives, and Bargaining
Triangular Relations
THE PIVOT
Seeking and Maintaining the Pivot:
Divide and Influence
Alternatives and Bargaining Leverage
PUSHES AND PULLS
The Influence of Structure
Structure Does Not Determine--Room for Judgments
Six Alignments and Consistency
How and Why Systems Become Consistent
Causes of Consistency
THE ENEMY OF MY ENEMY IS MY FRIEND
Who Is the Main Enemy?
Balance as a Psychological Dynamic
Conditions and Limits
AVOIDING UNDESIRED BALANCE
SEEKING IMBALANCE: TRYING TO BE FRIENDS WITH TWO ADVERSARIES
Differences in Strategies Producing
Imbalance
CONDITIONS UNDER WHICH BALANCE IS LIKELY
Necessity for Choice
PRE-WORLD WAR I DIPLOMACY: THE FORMATION OF A BALANCED SYSTEM
THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE ENTENTES
Seven Acting in a System
Information, Beliefs, and Action
EFFECTS DEPEND ON IMPRESSIONS
Lack of Awareness of System Effects
Acting in a System
CONSTRAINING
Anticipating System Effects
THE LIJPHART EFFECT
THE DOMINO THEORY PARADOX
DOING THINGS "IN TWOS"
QUASI-HOMEOSTASIS
Seeking the Desired Level of Risk
The Sequel to a Great Victory Is Often a
Great Defeat
Indirect Approaches
MOVING IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION
Doing More Than One Thing
Index
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