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1992 (14) Heft 2

James S. Coleman's "Foundations of Social Theory" I


Abstracts | Inhalt | Editorial

James S. Coleman
The Vision of Foundations of Social Theory

Abstract: Modern society has undergone a fundamental change to a society built around purposively established organizations. Social theory in this context can be a guide to social construction. Foundations of Social Theory is dedicated to this aim. Being oriented towards the design of social institutions it has to choose a voluntaristic, purposive theory of action and must make the behavior of social systems explainable in terms of the combination of individual actions. It has to deal with the emergence and maintenance of norms and rights, the concepts of authority, trust, law and legitimacy, the viability of organizations and the efficiency of social systems. But more important than the specific points is the vision of a new role for social theory in an increasingly constructed social environment. This vision is the motivation behind Foundations of Social Theory.

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Hartmut Esser
'Foundations of Social Theory' oder 'Foundations of Sociology'?

Abstract: The comment deals with the relevance of Coleman's Foundations of Social Theory for so called 'sociological theory'. On the one hand Coleman's work is an extraordinary contribution to the solution of some of the most important 'classical' questions of sociology. On the other hand it is to be expected that the enormous potential of the book probably has only limited effects within the wider sociological profession. One reason for that estimation is the unfamiliarity of many sociologists with Coleman's instruments of aggregation of collective effects. The other - more important - reason is that Coleman almost completely leaves out any discussion of the importance of 'symbolic' and 'cultural' processes. Insofar the book is indeed a "Foundation of Social Theory" but not a foundation of 'sociology' in its past and present understanding.

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Karl-Dieter Opp
Micro-Macro Transitions in Rational Choice Explanations

Abstract: The rational choice approach focuses on explaining macrosocial phenomena or relationships by applying a theory about the behavior of individual actors. This paper addresses James S. Coleman's account of micro-macro transitions involved in rational choice explanations. The starting point of this account is a macro-relationship. Its independent variable has a causal effect on the independent variable of a micro-relationship. The dependent variable of this relationship in turn influences the dependent variable of the macro-relationship (see Figure 1 of this paper). The paper extends this account by delineating other types of micro-macro explanations and discusses some of its problems.

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Russell Hardin
The Street-Level Epistemology of Trust

Abstract: Rational choice and other accounts of trust base it in objective assessments of the risks and benefits of trusting. But rational subjects must choose in the light of what knowledge they have, and that knowledge determines their capacities for trust. This is an epistemological issue, but not at the usual level of the philosophy of knowledge. Rather, it is an issue of pragmatic rationality for a given actor. It is commonly argued that trust is inherently embedded in iterated, thick relationships. But such relationships are merely one source of relevant knowledge in a street-level epistemological account. Early experience may heavily influence later capacity for trust. For example, bad experience may lead to lower levels of trust and therefore fewer opportunities for mutual gain.

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Norman Braun
Altruismus, Moralität und Vertrauen

Abstract: Successful trust-relations exist if the trustee reciprocates in aceordance with his/her promises to the trustor's unilateral cooperation. Using a parametric rational choice approach, Coleman shows that an egoist without a moral conscience may place trust in another unmoral egoist. Consequently, successful trust-relations between those actors are possible if strategie considerations play no role for individual decision-making. This paper focusses on such considerations for the emergence of those relations, given complete information (in the sense of common knowledge) of the players. Generally, trust-relations are hard to establish if unmoral egoists take into account their strategie interdependence. It is shown that two different motivations of the trustee, viz., altruism and morality, may suffice to overcome the characteristic conflict between individual rationality and social efficieney in situations with strategically deciding actors.

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Werner Raub
Eine Notiz über die Stabilisierung von Vertrauen durch eine Mischung von wiederholten Interaktionen und glaubwürdigen Festlegungen

Abstract: Various mechanisms are known that can stabilize trust relations. Examples are repeated interactions and credible commitments through warranties, deposits, and other kinds of 'hostages'. Usually, these mechanisms are studied in isolation from one another. An integrated analysis is widely neglected. In this note, the effects of a 'mix' of mechanisms are analyzed. A simple case is offered, where a combination of repeated interactions and credible commitments can stabilize trust, while neither of the mechanisms alone can do so.

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Dennis C. Mueller
On the Foundations of Social Science Research

Abstract: Is it possible that all of the social sciences could employ a common methodology? If so, what would it be? This article adresses these questions. It takes off from James Coleman's recent book, The Foundations of Social Theory. Coleman's social theory is built on the postulate that individuals are rational actors, the same postulate that most of modern economics is built upon. This article critiques the use of this postulate in economics, and thus questions whether it is a useful building block for the methodological foundations of social science research. It proposes an adaptive view of human behavior as an alternative in which preferences are conditioned by past experience. The work of Joseph Schumpeter is discussed as an exemplar of the methodology advocated here.

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Peter Kappelhoff
Die Auflösung des Sozialen

Abstract: Coleman's Foundations of Social Theory is based on a theory of rational action in the specific version of utility maximization embedded in a macro-micro-macro-framework. This approach is logically and empirically deficient in the following aspects: The social constitution of the situation and the actor himself is excluded from the theoretical consideration (macro to micro transition). Limitations to rationality remain implicit and are not integrated into an empirically founded theory of bounded rationality (micro-theory). The dynamics of non-equilibrium systems are outside the realm of the theory (micro to macro transition). Central concepts of social theory, as for instance rights and norms, are reduced to a power based balance of interests. This results in a dissolution of social structure and in an infinite regress of contingent conditions.

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