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A lighthouse in social science,
This review is from: How Institutions Think (Frank W. Abrams Lectures) (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'.