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Human Organizations and Social Theory

Pragmatism, Pluralism, and Adaptation

Murray J. Leaf

Publication Year: 2009

In the 1930s, George Herbert Mead and other leading social scientists established the modern empirical analysis of social interaction and communication, enabling theories of cognitive development, language acquisition, interaction, government, law and legal processes, and the social construction of the self. However, they could not provide a comparably empirical analysis of human organization. _x000B__x000B_The theory in this book fills in the missing analysis of organizations and specifies more precisely the pragmatic analysis of communication with an adaptation of information theory to ordinary unmediated communications. The study also provides the theoretical basis for understanding the success of pragmatically grounded public policies, from the New Deal through the postwar reconstruction of Europe and Japan to the ongoing development of the European Union, in contrast to the persistent failure of positivistic and Marxist policies and programs.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Front Cover

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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

My purpose is to present a new kind of social theory. The center of the theory is a new view of social organization: what its parts are, how they are combined, and how it all is related to behavior. With it, our previous preoccupation with society or culture as underlying realities that organizations...

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pp. ix-x

I first thank the villagers of Sidhpur Kalan, Punjab, India. I especially thank Netar Singh and the other members of the family of Inder Singh as well as Naranjan Singh and the family of Bhaktavar Singh. Also in India, I continue to be indebted to M. S. Gill, who was the district...

Note on Orthography

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pp. xi-xii


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pp. xiii


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pp. xiv

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pp. 1-14

A new kind of social theory is emerging in anthropology. It is in every respect a new paradigm in Thomas Kuhn’s sense, comparable to the Copernican revolution in physics (1962, 43). Leaving behind empirically ungrounded divisions, this social theory is cultural as well as social...

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1. Empirical Starting Points

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pp. 15-38

Notwithstanding the increasing murkiness in what has been regarded as general social theory associated with the rise and fall of positivism over the last seventy-odd years, there have been important pockets of illumination, new and important clarifications of complex and elusive...

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2. Skepticism, Pragmatism, and Kant

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pp. 39-66

In recent years, skepticism has been enjoying renewed attention, emphasizing the issues of scientific method that concern us here (McGowan 1974; Burnyeat 1983; Fogelin 1985; Shapin and Schaffer 1985). There is a related but more broadly focused revival of interest in pragmatism...

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3. New Tools

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pp. 67-81

The problem of showing how large-scale social patterns emerge from individual decisions is central to social science. The first complete instance was Adam Smith’s description of the way individual-level efficiency-seeking behavior leads to large-scale efficiency in the division of labor...

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4. Social Idea Systems

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pp. 82-133

When we speak of consensus, we cannot actually mean agreement in what people privately think. We have no way of observing this. We mean, operationally, public expressions of agreement in or support for the ideas represented in public expressions or enactments. These enactments...

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5. Technical Information Systems

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pp. 134-139

Social information systems provide the ideas needed to enable people to agree on who will do the work. Technical idea systems define how to do it. Familiar systems of this sort in developed societies include Euclidian geometry and linear programming, the established theories of the...

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6. Organizations

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pp. 140-174

It is important to characterize the relationship between the ideas in the idea systems and their use in building organizational charters and social relationships. This question has two main aspects: How are the images and conceptual relations defined in the idea systems transformed or...

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7. Groups and Institutions

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pp. 175-194

Now we have the pieces needed to show where the perplexing sense of an institution comes from. First, attend more closely to the perplexity. When we try to explain how an institution is organized, exactly what does it feel like? There are many kinds of perplexity. What kind is this? The...

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8. Adaptation

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pp. 195-210

The new cultural ecological studies have reaffirmed the need to recognize individual rationality as an adaptive mechanism. But what produces rationality? The answer lies in the relationship between multiple organizations and the formation of a sense of self, a self-identification...

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9. Conclusion

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pp. 211-219

My complete analysis is schematized in figure 21. This is a representation of what people do, not something they are supposed to be in. Creating an organization and a sense of being in it in an organized situation is a central part of the process around which is created the further sense of an...


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pp. 221-224


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pp. 225-236


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pp. 237-244

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780252091711
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252034244

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2009