- Paperback: 276 pages
- Publisher: Cambridge University Press (November 28, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0521606373
- ISBN-13: 978-0521606370
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,969,969 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Social Emergence: Societies As Complex Systems
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"Following many other contemporary social scientists K. Sawyer presents a theoretical discussion of a recurrent and important question in the social sciences: How should we explain the relations between individuals and social structures?" -François Dépelteau, Canadian Journal of Sociology Online
Can we understand important social issues by studying individual personalities and decisions? Or are societies somehow more than the people in them? Social Emergence takes a new approach to these longstanding questions. Sawyer argues that societies are complex dynamical systems, and that the best way to resolve the debates is by developing the concept of emergence, focusing on multiple levels of analysis--individuals, interactions, and groups - and with a dynamic focus on how social group phenomena emerge from communication processes among individual members.
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Top Customer Reviews
Sawyer argues that the agent-based modeling and complexity techniques now used form a "third wave" of social systems theory, the first being Talcott Parsons' structural-functionalism, and the second being Bertalanffy' work general systems theory. Sawyer's personal emphasis is on the role of communication in constituting complex group intentionality.
The book does a nice job of outline the history of the concept of emergence in social theory, arguing that Durkheim's work is best understood as a systematic alternative to methodological individualism. Much of the analysis difficult to deal with because it depends on a high level of abstraction from analytical and behavioral models, so lacks focus. It is difficult to have much patience with transcendental realism, critical realism, and other philosophical and sociological doctrines that pontificate on the abstract nature of social systems.
Sawyer stresses the importance of agent-based modeling of complex dynamical systems. This stress is well-founded, but the book's emphasis on the level of emergent properties leads to a slighting of the analytical modeling of human individuals. This is, of course, typical of a sociological approach to social theory, but it belies the author's earlier insistence on the cross-disciplinary nature of the task of explaining social emergence. There is neither biology nor economics here, and the analysis suffers as a result. It is incorrect to believe that a groups of computer scientists can model human communication, for instance, without knowing the empirical data on the social role of communication, the evolutionary dynamics of human language, and the conditions under which communication is veridical. In particular, it is incorrect to think one can understand communication without problematizing the conditions under which people can assume that message are truthful.
Despite erring on the side of slighting the micro components of society---the individuals who compose society in their strategic and communicative interactions---this is a valuable contribution for those interested in developing social theory beyond methodological individualism
"from the late nineteenth century through the 1920s, many holists rejected materialism and held to dualist ontologies such as vitalism and organicism. Vitalism holds that living organisms contain a 'vital' force or substance in addition to physical matter [...] as science became more firmly detached from metaphysics, nonmaterialist holisms -- including vitalism, dualism, spiritualism, and idealism -- became increasingly difficult for serious scientists to maintain, although metaphysical philosophers continued to make such arguments through the 1920s. Today, dualist ontologies such as vitalism are rejected as unscientific by the mainstream of all scientific disciplines; all science is now materialist and is based on the metaphysical position [until empirical evidence warrants otherwise] that all existence is material in character and there are no entities that exist independently of matter [p.029]."