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Rational Ritual: Culture, Coordination, and Common Knowledge by [Chwe, Michael Suk-Young]
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4.3 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Communal activities, with lots of emotional and symbolic content . . . serve a rational purpose, argues Michael Suk-Young Chwe. . . . [His] work, like his own academic career, bridges several social sciences."--Virginia Postrel, New York Times

"A welcome addition. . . . Rational Ritual . . . can be understood and enjoyed by almost anyone interested in human interaction."--Vincent P. Crawford, Journal of Economic Literature

From the Inside Flap

"This is a very compelling and original work. It is the best conceptual book I have read in economics in several years. It will have an immediate and enthusiastic readership in the social sciences and will make Chwe's name as an important thinker."--Tyler Cowen, George Mason University

"Rational Ritual is engaging, well organized, and well written. It brings together the tools of game theory and the issues posed within a wide variety of areas of contemporary social theory to address an important problem. Students and scholars in diverse academic disciplines--including political science, sociology, anthropology, and some areas of cultural studies--will find the book both relevant and accessible."--David Ruccio, University of Notre Dame

Product Details

  • File Size: 2215 KB
  • Print Length: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (May 7, 2001)
  • Publication Date: May 7, 2001
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B001QXCY8Q
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #147,001 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A. Dale on November 11, 2008
Format: Paperback
Michael Chwe's book Rational Ritual: Culture, Coordination, and Common Knowledge is an enjoyable and readable exploration of how strategic actions intersect with rituals and other forms of non-"rational" behavior. For a popular audience, Chwe's illustrations will likely ring familiar and stimulate discussion about the foundations of social behavior. As an academic work, Chwe's book makes progress in connecting disparate lines of research in social science. However, the anecdotal approach of his argument leaves open some conceptual and empirical questions about the usefulness of his theory.
Chwe's primary task is to demonstrate that the construction of common knowledge--a situation where everyone knows a piece of information in a group, "everyone knows that everyone knows it, everyone knows that everyone knows that everyone knows it, and so on"--can be used to overcome coordination problems (p. 3). According to Chwe, coordination problems arise when a group of people want to participate in some activity, but only when others are also participating--a "safety in numbers" type of situation.
Chwe rolls out his argument by offering dozens of engaging examples where coordination problems are resolved through the construction of common knowledge. He discusses examples such as Super Bowl advertising, architecture in prisons, mass rebellions, and authoritarian rituals. In each of these cases, Chwe claims that individuals would not be able to achieve a collective outcome without common knowledge. For example, a group of individuals will not engage in rebellion if they are not relatively certain that other people will join them. Common knowledge lets people know that others share in their plight.
Information plays a key role in this theory.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
What purpose do rituals serve? How can people coordinate behavior when many solutions exist? Michael Chwe's book hopes to answer these questions from the perspective of knowledge. He contends that community rituals and education are a means to form common knowledge and initiate individuals into the group. Most interactions are not zero-sum games of conflict: instead, individuals must understand how to coordinate behavior when there are many potential ideal equilibria. Hence, believing that information is the same across individuals can help when attempting to choose amongst multiple equilibria. Chwe offers insight into how these rituals can help separate equilibria, however he falls a bit shy of the mark when he attempts to address counter points to his arguments. Despite this shortcoming, his book offers an interesting overview of the significance of common knowledge and rituals that is short, accessible, and easy to read.

Chwe shows that rational behavior motivates individuals to seek common knowledge if they hope to interact in any form of group environment (in which coordination/cooperation is needed). Often in these interactions, individual behavior is conditioned not upon an individual's knowledge, but what that individual perceives others to know. Rituals are one means of generating common knowledge and the specific behavior within the rituals is designed to lay a basic foundation for future interactions. Alternatives to these rituals are costly in that they would require explicit communication on the individual level, or small-group level, but again not everyone could be certain of the knowledge others possess. Chwe uses examples to explain how agents are able to coordinate, showing that many cultural practices are about reinforcing what they already know.
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By A Customer on June 3, 2003
Format: Paperback
This book has the potential to open the minds of economists to the relationship between culture and economic action, and anthropologists-sociologists and political scientists to the power of game theory. It lays the path towards a new, more intergrated social science, which helps reconcile the collectivist notions of Durkheim with the individualists notions of neo-classical economics, and does this much more effectively - within its realm - than social capitalists like James Coleman and Robert Puttnam. Chwe's ideas are much deeper than theirs - and more better expressed -- he writes very well. Since "Rational Ritual" is more deep than flashy, its real impact will be felt in time.
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