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How Institutions Think (Frank W. Abrams Lectures) Paperback – July 1, 1986

4.3 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Series: Frank W. Abrams Lectures
  • Paperback: 146 pages
  • Publisher: Syracuse University Press; First Edition edition (July 1, 1986)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0815602065
  • ISBN-13: 978-0815602064
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 5.9 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #124,056 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
This book begins with a dilemma around a group of men, caught in a cave by falling rocks. Starved of food they have to decide whether cannibalism would be acceptable. Douglas argues that there is no universal solution to this dilemma and that the different possible outcomes depend on the instituional relationships among the individuals.
Mary Douglas admits in the early chapters of the text that this is the book she should have written first. Many of her earlier books, including Purity and Danger and Natural Symbols attracted critical acclaim but failed to make her theoretical orientations explicit. Her approach is in a minority position in contemporary social science and is informed by the sociology of Durkheim as practiced in anthropology in the first half of this century.
As with all of her books, HIT is a great pleasure to read and she illuminates critical academic concerns with in a voice that is engaging. The book was written as a response to Olson's 'Logic of Action' and so focuses on demonstrating the contrary position that collective action does have rational foundations.
This is a short text which serves as a useful introduction. It is impossible to understand the breadth of Douglas' profound insights without also reading 'Implicit Meanings', 'Purity and Danger' and 'Risk and Blame'.
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Format: Paperback
Ever since the time of Descartes, and very probably since the time of the ancient Greeks, we have been deeply enamored with the idea that we - conscious, rational, decision-making beings - control the way that we think and act. While Mary Douglas certainly doesn't suggest that we are just mindless cogs in a machine, she does offer some interesting insights into how we think about institutions, categories, and rationality that have serious implications for the idea of wholly autonomous human intellectual agency. Douglas, one of the greatest social anthropologists to come out of England in the twentieth century, is known better for her "Purity and Danger," "Risk and Blame," and "Implicit Meanings." "How Institutions Think" is a series of Frank W Abrams Lectures that she delivered at Syracuse University in 1985.

Some scientific ideas enter the world, readily accepted and widely read by an eager scholarly community. Others languish - but not because they are of a lesser quality, and not even because they are incorrect. Ludwig Fleck's book on the discovery of syphilis titled "The Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact" (Entstehung und Entwicklung einer wissenschaftlichen Tatsache), was one of the latter. Anticipating a sort of social constructivism, Fleck said that scientific ideas are accepted or rejected into a canon for reasons not because of their inherent worth, but because certain social conditions (Fleck called these "thought-conditions" or "thought collectives") allow or disallow their admittance. The Denkkollecktiv is a whole matrix of social circumstances, thoughts, and assumptions that envelop the scientific project.
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Format: Paperback
Many books make good reading; some make for good study; only a few books are good for both reading and studying, and Mary Douglas's How Institutions Think is among the few. This is my sixth time to read the book and each time I came out a better thinker, maybe even a better person. The degree of technical difficulty of the book remained high, but the gains are just as great. The chapter on how institutions "make life and death decisions" is an example of difficult materials to understand. This is probably because I am not as widely read as she is. For example, among the list of her references are recent Nobel Prize works. This book was published in 1986. But even then Professor Douglas could discern works that came to be celebrated in the late 1990s and later. What a filter for quality! I particularly like Chapters 1, 4, 5, 6, and 8. For that I strongly recommend this book to economists, researchers, and policy-makers of all kinds.
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