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eBook Identity and Control: How Social Formations Emerge - Second Edition ePub

eBook Identity and Control: How Social Formations Emerge - Second Edition ePub

by Harrison C. White

  • ISBN: 0691137153
  • Category: Social Sciences
  • Subcategory: Other
  • Author: Harrison C. White
  • Language: English
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; 2 edition (June 1, 2008)
  • Pages: 456
  • ePub book: 1433 kb
  • Fb2 book: 1647 kb
  • Other: doc lrf rtf mobi
  • Rating: 4.4
  • Votes: 650


Harrison C. White is the Giddings Professor of Sociology at Columbia University. Identities," for White, want "control," and "footing.

Harrison C. His books include Markets from Networks: Socioeconomic Models of Production (Princeton) and Careers and Creativity: Social Forces in the Arts. Paperback: 456 pages. Naturally, then, there is no need for the pesky utility functions that populate economic models, much less beliefs concerning means-ends relationships and the probability of alternative outcomes. are secondary to the engendering of ends.

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White extends these results upward through institutions and large social formations. The book looks at our concept of "self" and challenges the view that has lead to our modern psychology, sociology and economics. Finally, the critical point of the books is about "getting action. How is it that someone embedded in the web of ties and relationship we are all in can succeed at doing anything? I have spent nearly 6 months reading this book, reading it, reading references, and then reading it again and I do not feel I have wasted my time.

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Harrison, Daniel (2001). Theory, Networks, and Social Domination: A Critical Exploration of Harrison C. White. Florida State University. White (2002), Markets from Networks: Socioeconomic Models of Production, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Harrison C. White (1993), Careers and Creativity: Social Forces in the Arts. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. Harrison, Daniel (2001).

How Social Formations Emerge. Article in Acta Sociologica 53(1):81-82 · March 2010 with 57 Reads. How we measure 'reads'. January 1994 · American Journal of Sociology. December 2009 · European Journal of Archaeology. His books include Markets from Networks: Socioeconomic Models of Production (Princeton) and Careers and Creativity: Social Forces in the Arts

Harrison C.

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White attempts nothing less than a comprehensive theoretical synthesis of social scientific ideas.

In this completely revised edition of one of the foundational texts of network sociology, Harrison White refines and enlarges his groundbreaking theory of how social structure and culture emerge from the chaos and uncertainty of social life. Incorporating new contributions from a group of young sociologists and many fascinating and novel case studies, Identity and Control is the only major book of social theory that links social structure with the lived experience of individuals, providing a rich perspective on the kinds of social formations that develop in the process. Going beyond traditional sociological dichotomies such as agency/structure, individual/society, or micro/macro, Identity and Control presents a toolbox of concepts that will be useful to a wide range of social scientists, as well as those working in public policy, management, or associational life and, beyond, to any reader who is interested in understanding the dynamics of social life.


Madi Madi
As one of the contributors to the book it is a bit self-serving to give it 5 stars, but the book(s) had a tremendous influence on me and my contribution was relatively minor. I say "books" because I had already spend more that a year reading the first edition (no one could read it in weeks).

Address the criticism raised by the economist above, I what to point out that he problems of atomic individualism that White raises are the grist of the mill of economic sociology in general and have been addressed in detail by (White's student) Mark Granovetter and many others as well. As much as economists wish that it were true, economic models do not account for social structure and the repeated misapplication of them crashes the world economy time after time (see Donald Mackenzie). In fact, White DOES allow for rational choice, calling it a "style."

One of the difficulties of the book is that by talking of "identities" instead of "individuals" it is hard to pin down the point of view of the source of action. To an economist it is clear that an individual makes a decision in his or her best interest (in something akin to a CPU, mind or whatever). In this view, ocial structure is the result of these individual decisions. White flips it around (this is only part of this marvelous book) and says that we account for what we observer based on stories we have available to us. In other words, decisions are explanations and not causes (to some extent). But what is the observer observing if he or she is not observing the consequence of a decision (rational choice?) In White's view, perhaps nothing at all. We mask the complexities of social life with these stories.

Though there are several senses of identity, one sense the identity of the stars of the story we tell about the situation we observe. But if that is the case, we are the stars of many stories. As Shakespeare said:

"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,"

Each role is our identity is in the particular scene in which we are acting so it is fruitless to spend too much time on the essential qualities of an individual. White is deliberately using the term "identity" to avoid the mistake of essence.

White might well take with a grain of salt the genes for personality (in personal communication he poo pooed the idea of personality at all). If one gets past the breathless reporting of the media and the dreams of computer scientists and economists then thinking of humans as bundles of essential qualities is missing the point. We may be making the Fundamental Attribution Error, mistaking dispositional for situational. So by using the term "identity," that which we identify, rather than "individual" The source of action, then, comes in the confluence of social networks that make up that "person" at that time rather than essential qualities of that person. White talks of this confluence as "style." A key element of the book is our switching between networks and it is our style that influences these selections.

The term "control" can raise the neck hairs on anyone with a modicum of political correctness. After all, only Bad People try to control others. But thinking about real life this is not the case. Any of us tries to control others by the way we dress, speak and so on. We try to control them into accepting us, giving us jobs, being our mates and more. Interestingly (and somewhat maddeningly from the reader's point-of-view) we identify our own identities partially the social context. In each of our social networks, our family, our work, our socializing group and so on we have a different role and different status. We struggle to maintain our identities. Our identities, the ones we see when we think of ourselves are partially and sometimes completely shaped by our interactions with others. In economics the "I" that makes the choice is clearly differentiated from the "other." Identities are the product of the intersection of control projects and exist independently of anything we might think of as an "individual."
So "control" has a much more general way in this book.

To get the most out of the book, one must spend time with the material on which he bases the book, in other words, reading even more books and papers. It is not simply a matter of reading the book and being done with it. Many of the concepts interrelate from the micro (personal) level up to the macro (societal) level and it is useful to read the book once to get the sense of how this scale works, then read it again To explain some of the concepts he needs to use them in many contexts, in many cases and they are often difficult to grasp so a second reading will be necessary.

All this sounds like work. Is it worth it? I found it very worth it. Several others I know have made comments like "Harrison rearranges your brain" and "I have never been able to see the world in the same way." Of course, having one's brain rearranged may not be a Good Thing. However, it does it in a positive way. When we really start go see how much we limit ourselves by the stories we select to explain away the world, we open ourselves not only to more learning and to seeing past the stories, but also to a type of forgiving that comes with seeing how we are all embedded n a matrix of pink goo that guides our action. Perhaps the greatest reward is the final chapter, Action, where he discusses how to get out of the matrix and act outside the set of stories you are handed in your particular place and time.

While this book is important for academic sociologists I recommend it for the literate general reader. It is not the type of book you breeze through in an airport, as I mentioned. It is the kind of book you read to invest in yourself.
Fearlessrunner Fearlessrunner
Written for professionals... Writing somewhat pedantic -- disappointed seemed to hold more promise than delieverd
Binar Binar
Harrison White is among the most renowned of living sociological theorists, and Identity and Control may be considered the theoretical culmination of a thirty-five year research agenda. White's general research area is social network theory, but his empirical work, has led him to view all of social life, including the nature of institutions and the development of personhood, as significant effects of social networks. White's deep engagement with sociological data has served him well, and he has influenced many of his Ph.D. students to work on filling out a compelling theory of social networks. Despite the deeply theoretical nature of this work, White refers repeatedly to the findings of himself and his students (many of which are themselves now distinguished sociologists) in explicating and defending his views.

Social network theory is of course all the rage nowadays, but generally under the rubric of complexity theory, and research in this area is treated as an application of graph theory. For White, by contrast, social networks are deeply embedded in the social fabric and significantly account for the quality of social relations and the pattern of personal development. Despite the fact that White does not rely on complexity theory, it is probably true that the value of his work lies in the fact that human society is a complex dynamical system that cannot be completely comprehended in terms of analytical mathematical models, even in principle (White was an MIT-trained physicist before he turned to sociology, and he is a first-rate mathematician who has the attractive quality of not trying to force mathematical modeling into areas where it is less than enlightening).

My early acquaintance with Harrison White's work was a terrific paper on the organization of firms in a market that he published in the American Journal of Sociology in 1981. White noted a number of facts about industry organization that conflict with the standard economic model, and proposed that firms in an industry react to one another, not simply to the price structure. This "network" conception of competition, White showed, could account for some of the anomalous behavior. In fact, I have found that the firm imitation process has a huge impact on the stability of equilibrium in general market interaction (see, for instance, Herbert Gintis, "The Dynamics of General Equilibrium", Economic Journal 117 2007:1289-1309), a fact that is still not recognized in most of economic theory.

But, why did White not publish this extremely important paper in an economics journal? He may well have tried and been rejected. Or, perhaps he knew his idea was too radical to possibly be accepted by economists. At any rate, the result is lamentable. Since few sociologists are interested in market structure, the idea appears to have petered out. Indeed, as White's ideas about networks matured, he came more and more to see that the "persons" that occupy positions in economic theory cannot be placed at the center of social networks analysis, but must be replaced by "identities" of a more abstract, non-decision-making nature who devolved into personhood through practice, but whose constitution is very much the product of their network locations.

One of the deep disappointments in White's treatment of social networks is precisely his decided self-distancing from economic theory. One of the great advantages of economic theory is its ability to simplify to the extent of achieving the capacity to model analytical, and hence to make predictions as to the effects of parameter changes on aggregate social behavior. This ability accounts for the power of economic analysis in informing social policy alternatives. White's treatments are descriptively rich and insightful (although he develops a private description language that is awkward and bizarre---a language shared only with his epigone), but they are utterly incapable of informing social policy, and they are not in any interesting sense amenable to empirical refutation, except on the most superficial level.

White presents his critique of economic theory in chapter 4 ("Styles"). He asserts that "persons come into existence and are formed as the result of overlaps among identities from distinct network-populations...Persons build in terms of styles across distinct population. Conversation prefigures personal identity...'Person' should be a construct from the middle of the analysis, not a given boundary condition from the start." (p. 129) This, I can see, is a deep truth, but it remains a fact that in a large number of situations, persons remain relatively constant through time, although a Whitean insight might help us understand how they got to be the stable selves that they are. At any rate, the idea that we should abandon all economic insights into social interaction because economists assume that individual preferences are given is extreme and intemperate.

White's analysis remains on a purely descriptive level because he refuses to place individual strivings at the center of his analysis. "Identities," for White, want "control," and "footing." Naturally, then, there is no need for the pesky utility functions that populate economic models, much less beliefs concerning means-ends relationships and the probability of alternative outcomes. Indeed, White asserts that "means-ends chains...are secondary to the engendering of ends. A main goal or end of action is control, and control need not have explicit intermediate goals." (p. 136). This argument is just wrong. Control is a generalized capacity to achieve temporally contingent and often highly variable goals, but the value of control is a function of its expected usefulness in attaining ends. Control is wholly dependent upon the uses of control.

Of course, then, like most sociologists, rationality is of little value in understanding human behavior. "An actor's existence comes to pass," says White, "only through embeddings that specify ends as well as support identity, embeddings that are matters of friction and mismatch rather than of induction into roles. Rationality should be seen primarily as a by-product from reading larger-scale patterns." (p. 136). I rather think not. Systems are agglomerations of individual agents, and the most prominent fact about human actors is that they rather relentlessly pursue goals as best they can. Of course, few social networks are governed by simple, one-dimensional payoffs. People want many things at once from work, friendship, marriage, prayer, and food shopping.

I rather think that rational choice and game-theoretically constituted strategic interaction are the tools that put the first layer of flesh on human society, and the abject incapacity of White's analysis to predict and advise policy is based on his abandoning these tools. Of course, this first layer of flesh is a horror to behold, and adding the structural and dynamic elements for a fully fleshed out picture of human social behavior is a highly valuable enterprise. Admiring the bird of paradise's exquisite plumage is satisfying, but we must not forget that this is, after all, a bird whose basic characteristics are the product of evolution according to adaptive radiation.

Developing and consistently using one's own vocabulary appears to be a contemporary prerequisite to being considered highly as a sociological theorist. Harrison White is certainly no exception. The following is typical: "Failure invokes the dramatic demise of an identity. In this sense, failure couples control to identity, whereas forgetting and referral are less dramatic erosions of identities. Failure is a basic social invention, which turns boundary condition into source of action." (p. 74). Having diligently read the book up to this point, I still cannot imagine what this might mean, or how "failure" could ever be seen as a social invention, except in the obvious sense that what constitutes proper performance in a social role is socially and even network specific.

The historical tradition of Marx, Weber, Durkheim, and Parsons addressed themselves to the creation of a general social theory that could be applied towards answering a wide variety of social questions. In biology, physics, and economics, for instance, there is a "core theory" that everyone learns, and all other subjects are applications of core principles to new domains of study. When sociologists rejected Parsons' attempt at a general theory, sociology splintered into a mosaic of incommensurate lexicons, each having the indelible imprimatur of a single individual (Habermas, Coleman, Bourdieu, Garfinkel, Goffman, White, and so on), like the trademark brushstroke of the artist. Thus, studying sociology today is more akin to studying literature or philosophy, which takes the form of the Parade of the Greats, rather than studying science, which is cumulative and basically anti-historical and hostile to explanatory diversity. I think the complex dynamical nature of human society bids us valorize the doctrinal diversity of contemporary sociological theories, but without a common core, these theories will forever remain the idiosyncratic property of their creators.
Questanthr Questanthr
This book is only for academics.

I have tried to read the 1st edition several times, but it is a full time job for a couple of weeks. And I mean just getting through the pages; not understanding. The author is intelligent and well-known in the field, so it might be worth it. But as a prospective buyer of the book you should know what to expect.

I bought the 2nd edition hoping the language would be clearer. It might be slighly clearer, but there are also changes that add further confusion. It is not clear when the author has changed his opinion from the 1st edition or when he just tries to express himself differently. This point is however only relevant for those who have tried to get through the 1st edition.

With time this book might become a sociology classic, but not before we start seeing other work directly interpreting what is being said in the book. That has not really happened yet. Azarian The General Sociology of Harrison C. White: Chaos and Order in Networks has written one interpretation, but it only deals with a few aspects of this book.
Lestony Lestony
Harrison White's opus is an extraordinary attempt to get to grips with the messy reality of social organization. White wears his scholarship lightly, also incorporating many suggestions from learned friends and colleagues.
For people who are not sociologists and familiar with sociological cognoscenti jargon, his greatest gift is a dynamic balance between a rich theoretical perspective and concrete illustrations that give texture and meaning to his arguments. Invaluable for a wide range of social scientists.