Monday, April 29, 2013

Life quality across structural change

Periods of rapid structural change are particularly likely to lead to decline in the quality of life of some sections of the affected population. Change creates winners and losers; and it is common that the gains and losses are channeled into very distinct groups of people.  This is true during periods of large-scale migration, technology change, and structural change within an economy. Important components of life quality include health, nutrition, education, economic wellbeing, economic security, and security from violence and coercion. Each of these properties is affected by several important dimensions of social life:
  • legal and political institutions
  • institutions of economic production and distribution
  • economic opportunities and income
  • public provision of income supplements
  • public provision of food subsidies
  • public provision of health care resources
  • household support provided by family and community
When a society's governmental and economic institutions are enmeshed in a period of rapid change, many of the components of life quality are likely to be affected -- positively or negatively. The basic institutions of a society determine the value of the private and public assets individuals and households control on the basis of which to support their pursuit of a decent life; this is what Amartya Sen refers to as "entitlement bundles". (Sen applies his entitlement theory to the study of famine in Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation; link.) And shifts in the composition of the entitlement bundle are likely to lead to abrupt worsening of the conditions of the least-well-off.

For example: It is likely that the austerity policies of the Spanish or Greek governments will have a negative effect on the health and nutritional status of the bottom half of those societies. Working people will have lower incomes and they will have reduced access to the social safety net; health status is likely to decline. As another example: Life expectancy in the former Soviet Union declined measurably following the collapse of the Soviet system (link). One part of that decline was the disappearance of the social security net created by state-owned industry -- the smashing of the "iron rice bowl".

This concern is particularly relevant in the context of the rural-urban transformation currently underway in China. Since 1980 China's rural sector has been subject to at least two major kinds of structural change. One has to do with the economic and political institutions that governed daily life for rural households, from communes to market institutions. And the other has to do with the rapid structural transformation of China's economy from agriculture to export-led manufacturing. The first set of changes led to a withdrawal of forms of "social insurance" that had been associated with the commune system, including healthcare and old-age care. The second has led to mass migration of younger workers from villages and towns to factories in cities. This migration leaves the remaining population in the countryside older, poorer, and less economically secure.

These observations have several important implications. Foremost among these is the crucial importance of maintaining effective systems for monitoring and measuring life quality across the society. It is important to have good measures of health status, nutritional status, educational status, and old age life quality across regions and sub-populations. So national governments need to create and fund the social research activities necessary to measure health and other quality of life properties across the population. (Here is a recent post on a spatial study of quality of life in China based on 1982 data; link.) Sen argues that it was the availability or lack of availability of information about famine conditions that explained the difference in outcomes between China during the Great Leap Forward and post-independence India; Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation.

Second, when it turns out that there are large numbers of "losers" in a large social process of change, it is important for the state and non-governmental actors to find institutions and resources that will help to improve their outcomes. "Winners" need to help to fund the amelioration of harms created by the processes that led to their gains. If NAFTA led to the increase of overall national income for Canada, Mexico, and the United States, but also led to the displacement of workers in a significant set of industries -- then it makes sense to tax part of those gains to compensate the losers. And in fact, the NAFTA agreements were premised on such compensation, though this has not occurred reliably (link). This means redistribution across sectors and regions; and it is justified by the fact that the overall gains created by the transformation would not have been possible without imposing these losses on the disadvantaged sector or region.

What might this kind of redistributive policy look like in the context of China's rural-to-urban transformation? It would seem that public moneys will be needed for several types of problems:
  • Maintenance of income and quality of life and health for the elderly
  • Investments that increase the productivity of labor and the level of employment in rural areas
  • Investments that work to ameliorate the negative environmental effects of rapid change
  • Investments in the institutions of public health -- clinics, hospitals, and medical personnel
It might be asked, "Why should developing nations concern themselves with this issue?" There are several answers. Basic justice and fairness entails that the wealth of a society should be distributed in ways that allow all segments of society to improve their quality of life and wellbeing. A society's wealth and income is a joint product of its entire population; so fairness dictates that everyone should benefit from improvements in productivity. But prudence lines up with this answer as well. A society that ignores the widening of the gaps between rich and poor, and does not concern itself about improving the wellbeing of the poor, is likely to suffer a rising level of social strife as well. It can either go the route of creating gated communities for the rich, or it can use its resources to create fair life outcomes and fair access to opportunity for all its people. Everyone is better off in the long run with the second choice.

In The Paradox Of Wealth And Poverty: Mapping The Ethical Dilemmas Of Global Development I argued that a developing nation should choose an economic development strategy that spreads the benefits of growth over a broader population, over a strategy with a higher growth rate but with substantially greater inequality. I still think this is the right answer to the question. And this approach has the best likelihood of improving the quality of life of the poorest segment of society. The graphs below make the case based on three stylized strategies:
  1. NL neo-liberal growth: choose those policies and institutional reforms that lead to the most rapid growth: unfettered markets, profit-maximizing firms, minimal redistribution of in­come and wealth 
  2. PF poverty-first growth: choose those policies and institutional reforms that lead to economic growth favorable to the most rapid growth in the incomes flowing to the poorest 2 quintiles 
  3. WF immediate welfare improvement: direct as much social wealth as possible into programs that immediately improve the welfare of the poor (education, health, food subsidies, housing subsidies)  

The neo-liberal strategy consistently maximizes GDP; but the poverty-first strategy, which is more redistributive from the start, leads to consistently better improvement for the income for the bottom 40% of the economy.  It embodies the idea that Hollis Chenery advocated forty years ago in Redistribution with Growth: Policies to Improve Income Distribution in Developing Countries in the Context of Economic Growth.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Urban marginality

If you live within the reach of a major American city -- and most Americans do -- then you know what "marginality" is. It is the sizable sub-population of metropolitan America of young men and women who have been locked out of what we think of as the indispensable mechanisms of social mobility: decent education, healthcare resources, job opportunities, and safe neighborhoods. It is the young people of inner-city Baltimore depicted by The Wire. (Take a look at Richard Florida's detailed analysis of the spatial class structure of Detroit and a number of other cities; link.) The facts of compacted poverty and lack of opportunity, and the disaffection of young people that goes along with these absences, represent one of the most pressing social problems we face.

How should we go about studying and changing this appalling social reality? Alford Young's The Minds of Marginalized Black Men: Making Sense of Mobility, Opportunity, and Future Life Chances is one striking approach, using extended interviews to gain insight into the minds, worldviews, and social realities of some of these young people. (Here is an earlier discussion of Young's work; link.) Another approach is the large body of mainstream poverty research in the social sciences and policy studies. (Here is a penetrating critique of some of the assumptions of this research by Alice O'Connor; Poverty Knowledge: Social Science, Social Policy, and the Poor in Twentieth-Century U.S. History.) But an important and original voice on these issues is that of Loïc Wacquant, and particularly important is Urban Outcasts: A Comparative Sociology of Advanced Marginality (2008).

Wacquant's Ph.D. work was done at the University of Chicago (like Young's), and he too immersed himself in the street-level realities of segregated, impoverished Chicago. Wacquant's approach was a novel one: he took up boxing in an inner city boxing club to gain access to the ordinary lives of the young men of the neighborhoods. His ethnography of this experience was published in the fascinating book, Body and Soul: Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer.

Wacquant is French and comparativist; he is interested in investigating the experience of marginality in the United States and comparing it with equally marginalized neighborhoods in France, the banlieue of Paris. (Here is an earlier post on the banlieue and the sociological research of Didier Lapeyronnie's Ghetto urbain; ségrégation, violence, pauvreté en France aujourd'hui.) In each instance modern cities are found to have large populations of apparently permanently marginalized under-class people. Here is how Wacquant frames the issue in "The Rise of Advanced Marginality: Notes on its Nature and Implications" (link) (1996):
The resurgence of extreme poverty and destitution, ethnoracial divisions (linked to the colonial past) and public violence, and their accumulation in the same distressed urban areas, suggest that the metropolis is the site and fount of novel forms of exclusionary social closure in advanced societies. (121)
But Wacquant's summary finding is perhaps a surprising one: he finds that the "Black Belt" in Chicago and the "Red Belt" of Paris are substantially different social phenomena. Rather than a homogeneous social reality of "ghetto" extending from Chicago to London to Amsterdam to Paris, he finds a differentiated social reality:
A paired comparison between neighborhoods of relegation in Chicago's 'Black Belt' and the Parisian 'Red Belt' shows that the declining French metropolitan periphery and the Afro-American ghetto remain two sharply distinct sociospatial constellations. And for good reason: they are heirs to different urban legacies, produced by different logics of segregation and aggregation, and inserted in different welfare state and market frameworks, all of which result in markedly higher levels of blight, segregation, isolation, and distress in the US ghetto. (122)
Wacquant introduces the idea of "advanced marginality" to describe the social reality of isolation and deprivation created by advanced capitalism in the rich cities of the North. Here are the criteria he offers for a social system embedding advanced marginality:
  • the growing internal heterogeneity and desocialization of labor,
  • the functional disconnection of neighborhood conditions from macro-economic trends;
  • territorial fixation and stigmatization; spatial alienation and the dissolution of place;
  • the loss of a viable hinterland; and
  • the symbolic fragmentation of marginalized population (121)
An element that Wacquant finds to be in common across advanced marginality in modern cities is what he calls "territorial fixation" -- the confinement of the marginal in specific neighborhoods of the city.
Rather than being diffused throughout working class areas, advanced marginality tends to concentrate in well-identified, bounded, and increasingly isolated territories viewed by both outsiders and insiders as social purgatories, urban hellholes where only the refuse of society would accept to dwell. (125)
In Urban Outcasts Wacquant provides a much more developed comparative sociology of marginalized urban populations. It is significant that he begins his treatment of marginality with the topic of riot and uprising -- a recurring social reality in the United States (Chicago, Watts, Detroit, ...), London, Strasbourg, and Paris. This seems significant, because it seems like a logical correlate with the deprivation and stigmatization associated with advanced marginality.
Most of the disorders, big and small, that have shaken up the French working-class banlieues, the British inner city and adjacent barrios of North American have involved chiefly the youths of impoverished, segregated and often dilapidated urban neighbourhoods caught in a spiral of decline; they appear to have been fuelled by growing ethnoracial tensions in and around those areas. (20)
And Wacquant thinks these uprisings stem from three large social causes: mass unemployment, relegation to decaying neighbourhoods, and heightened stigmatization in daily life of the marginalized young people (25). He quotes a young man from Bristol:
I don't have a job and I'll never have one. Nobody wants to help us get out of this shit. If the government can spend so much money to build a nuclear submarine, why not for the inner cities? If fighting cops is the only way to get heard, then we'll fight them. (31)
This is a superb piece of sociology, making use of multiple means of inquiry (ethnographic, comparison, statistical) to arrive at credible theories of the causes of urban marginality. And, contrary to the critique offered by O'Connor of mainstream poverty studies, there is not an ounce of "blaming the poor" in this study. Wacquant wants to understand the social processes that create and reproduce the urban spatial reality of marginality. And in doing this, he aims to provide some of the understanding we will need to begin to take this system apart.

Excerpt The Wire

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Actor-centered history

It is easy enough to ask the question, "How can we best explain the fall of the Roman Empire, the rise of German fascism, or the Industrial Revolution in England?" And we often want to paraphrase questions like these along causal lines: "What were some of the causes of the fall of Rome, what were the causes of the rise of fascism, what were the causes of the Industrial Revolution?"

But are these really good questions? Is this really the right way of thinking about historical explanation? What if we think that there is an overwhelming amount of contingency and path dependency in history? What if we think that the language of "cause" doesn't work particularly well in the context of history? For that matter, what if we take most seriously the idea that history is the result of the actions and thoughts of vast numbers of actors, so it is a flow of action and knowledge rather than a sequence of causes and effects? Do these alternative thoughts about history force us to ask different questions about large historical changes?

We might consider this alternative way of thinking of history: think about "social conditions and processes" rather than discrete causes; couch historical explanations in terms of how individual actors (low and high) acted in the context of these conditions; and interpret the large outcomes as no more than the aggregation of these countless actors and their actions. Think about history as a stream or river, whose flow is influenced by the topography of the land through which it moves and the obstacles and barriers it encounters in its course.

This picture probably needs broadening in at least one important respect: our account of the "flow" of human action eventuating in historical change needs to take into account the institutional and structural environment in which these actions take place. Part of the "topography" of a period of historical change is the ensemble of institutions that exist more or less stably in the period: property relations, political institutions, family structures, educational practices. So historical explanations need to be sophisticated in their treatment of institutions and structures.

In Marx's famous contribution to the philosophy of history, he writes that "men make their own history; but not in circumstances of their own choosing." And circumstances can be both inhibiting and enabling; they constitute the environment within which individuals plan and act. It is an important circumstance that a given time possesses a fund of scientific and technical knowledge, a set of social relationships of power, and a level of material productivity. It is also an important circumstance that knowledge is limited; that coercion exists; and that resources for action are limited. Within these opportunities and limitations, individuals, from leaders to ordinary people, make out their lives and ambitions through action.

On this line of thought, history is a flow of human action, constrained and propelled by a shifting set of environmental conditions (material, social, epistemic). There are conditions and events that can be described in causal terms: enabling conditions, instigating conditions, cause and effect, ... But here my point is to ask the reader to consider whether this language of cause and effect does not perhaps impose a discreteness of historical events that does not actually reflect the flow of history very well. History is continuous and analog; causal structures are discontinuous and digital.

Consider how Karl Dietrich Bracher approaches the problem of explaining the rise of National Socialism in The German dictatorship: The origins, structure, and effects of national socialism (1970).
Inherent in all these [prior] studies is the question of how a dictatorial regime of such dimensions could come to power so quickly and with so little or no resistance in a country with Germany's traditions and cultural heritage…. Yet the question does remain why Germany, which after a century-long battle for democratic government had constructed, in the Weimar Republic, a seemingly perfect constitutional structure, capitulated unresistingly and within so short a period before so primitive a dictatorship as Hitler's. (3-4)
Bracher's own account is fundamentally couched in terms of the currency and transmission of sets of ideas and philosophies: nationalism, etatism, anti-Semitism, anti-liberalism. He gives an account of how various elements of these ideas were favored through European and German history from the early 19th century, through the revolutions of 1848, through Germany's defeat in World War I, into the strife of the Weimar period.
It was against this background [of ideological conflict in the Weimar period] that National Socialism took shape as a new type of integrating force. Being a specifically German manifestation of European antidemocratism, it was completely attuned to the German situation and even less of an export article than Italian Fascism. This is yet another example of the limits of the conception of a universal fascism. The nationalist foundation makes for profound differences from country to country. Nor is there any monocausal explanation, whether it be based on economic, political, or ideological premises. National Socialism, like Hitler, was the product of World War I, but it was given its shape and force by those basic problems of modern German history which marked the painful road of the democratic movement. Among these were the fragility of the democratic tradition and the powerful remnants of authoritarian governmental and social institutions before and after 1848. (46)
And here is a more psychological dimension of Bracher's explanation:
Among the special factors of the early days of National Socialism was the tremendously important part played by the spectacular rise and near-religious veneration of a Fuhrer. The organizational structure and activities of this new type of movement were based completely on the leader principle. In terms of social psychology, he represented the disenfranchised little man eager to compensate for his feelings of inferiority through militancy and political radicalism. (47)
In the final analysis, Hitler came to power as a result of a series of avoidable errors. He was neither elected freely by a majority of the German people nor were there compelling reasons for the capitulation of the Republic. However, in the end, the democratic forces were in the minority vis-a-vis the totalitarian, ditatorial parties of the National Socialists and the Communists. And in this situation a large portion of Germany's top echelons went over to Hitler after 1933. (49)
So far Bracher has focused on the problem of origins: how did National Socialism come to prevail in Germany? But he also spends time on showing how this dictatorship ruled, and this is a simpler story. Having gained the levers of power -- police, military, bureaucracy -- the Nazi state was able to implement the ideology and values that brought it to power.

So Bracher's narrative is ultimately one that has mostly to do with beliefs, knowledge systems, ideologies, and actors pursuing their purposes. It isn't a causal narrative, but rather an interpretive analysis of mass psychology within specific historical conditions. There are large elements of the history of ideas (the ways in which antidemocratic ideologies developed in Germany and other European countries after 1848, for example) as well as elements of meaningful and purposive human action (deciding to follow, deciding to lead, deciding to mobilize).

What all of this suggests to me is an alternative way of thinking about history that has a different structure from the idea of history as a stream of causes and effects. This approach might be called "actor-centered history": we explain an epoch when we have a story about what people thought and believed; what they wanted; and what social and environmental conditions framed their choices. It is a view of history that sounds more like composing a biography of a complex individual than it does telling the story of a bridge collapse. And it is a view that gives close attention to states of knowledge, ideology, and agency, as well as institutions, organizations, and structures.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Mohamed Cherkaoui on the micro-macro debate

The eminent French sociologist Mohamed Cherkaoui addresses the problem of delineating the micro-macro distinction in several works. Since Cherkaoui's empirical research on social stratification and the educational system seems often to bridge between micro and macro, his views are of interest.

Cherkaoui's analysis is presented in English primarily in three places, "The individual and the collective" (European Review 11:4 (2003)), "Macrosociology-microsociology" (International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences, Elsevier (2001), 9117-22), and "Micro-Macro Transitions: Limits of Rational Choice Theory in James Coleman's 'Foundations of Social Theory'" (link).

First, here is his paraphrase of the distinction as it is usually interpreted:
In essence, microsociology refers to the sociology of the individual, in isolation from his interactive groups. The macro level refers to the generality of persons in a situation. (I-C, 489)
A sociologist operates on the micrological level when he seeks to set up empirically the existence and measure the strength of the relation between the educational attainment and the occupational status of individuals. Whatever statistical analysis is used, this statement remains on the micro level inasmuch as it assumes that individuals are independent from each other in the same way that educational levels and professions are independent. (I-C, 490)
Fundamentally, he is asserting that "micro" is equated with "isolated purposive individual." Cherkaoui is critical of this approach to sociological research because it deliberately ignores "interdependence" -- the fact that individuals and their social properties are related to the behavior and properties of other individuals. Individuals must be treated in context; they should not be "de-contextualized" by sociological studies.

This criticism seems to be valid for a subset of social theorists, including especially those who proceed on the basis of the assumptions of rational choice theory (including James Coleman; see Cherkaoui's critique of Coleman here). But it is not valid for another important group of "micro-sociologists", including especially Erving Goffman and Harold Garfinkel and advocates of ethnomethodology. These sociologists look at the individual; but they are fully committed to doing so in a thick and contextualized way. We don't find any isolated individuals in Goffman and Garfinkel; rather, we find waiters, inmates, jurors, professors, and disaffected young people; and we find careful sociological observation of their behavior within specific institutional and normative contexts. An actor-centered sociology does not have to be based on a rational-choice model of the actor, and it isn't forced to ignore interactions and relationships among actors as they go through their social lives. So one quick rebuttal to Cherkaoui's argument is that "micro"-sociology does not equate to "isolated individual"-sociology. (This is the point of my own construct of "methodological localism", looking at individuals as socially situated and socially constituted; link.) Actor-centered sociology is not the same as decontextualized methodological individualism (link).

Now let's turn to the more extensive treatment is the entry in the International Encyclopedia.
Macrosociology generally refers to the study of a host of social phenomena covering wide areas over long periods of time. In contrast, microsociology would rather focus on specific phenomena, involving only limed groups of individuals such as family interactions or face-to-face relations. The theories and concepts of macrosociology operate on a systemic level and use aggregated data, whereas those of microsociology are confined to the individual level. (M-M, 9117)
In this essay Cherkaoui identifies three basic approaches to the micro-macro relation.

V1. The first is macro-centered; sociology looks for causal relations between one set of macro facts and another. "[The first approach] ... consists of analyzing the relations between a given social phenomenon and indepdendent social factors" (9117). This approach tends to disregard the micro; it is oblivious to the need for micro-foundations and lower-level mechanisms.

V2. The second attempts to explain macro characteristics on the basis of the aggregate effects of the micro characteristics. "The second procedure consists of collecting observations at an infrasystemic level and developing hypotheses on the basis of such units (individuals, groups, institutions), with the purpose of explaining systemic relations through an appropriate synthesis of these observations" (9118). This approach conforms to the logic represented by Coleman's Boat. It presents the problem of social explanation as one of aggregation of social phenomena from the behavior of rational actors at the micro level.

V3. The third is what we might call "formal-structural": it explains characteristics at the macro level by analyzing the structure and organization of the macro system. Here it is the nature and topology of the positions within the social structure that are of interest. "The third approach ... is to analyze the effects due to the nature of the positions and distributions of certain variables on the behavior of the system's component units without formulating hypotheses about individuals" (9118). This is reminiscent of what Thomas Schelling referred to as the "mathematics of musical chairs" in Micromotives and Macrobehavior. It is the characteristics of the workings (functioning) of the social system that provide the basis of social explanation.

Cherkaoui sums up his view of the relation between micro-sociology and macro-sociology in these terms:
The macrostructuralist project [V1] is limited to certain aspects of social reality. It cannot, any more than any other theory, offer a solution to the problem of the links between the micro and the macro. While the rational choice theory [V2] presents an undeniable advantage over other theories, it cannot serve as a universal solution: presenting it as unconditionally valid makes it vulnerable to the same dangers other theories have encountered. As for functionalism [V3], its error was to yield to the temptation of hegemony; it claimed the title of general theory of social systems, when some of its principles are only valid for particular, tightly circumscribed domains. This means that there is a right way of using functionalism and normative theories, just as there is a wrong way of using such strong, all-encompassing theories. There can be no single solution to the problem of the links between micro- and macrosociology, any more than there can be a single mode for explaining all phenomena (the first of these problems being only an aspect of the second). (9120)
Cherkaoui's critique of Coleman is also relevant to this issue, since Coleman proceeds with explanations moving from micro to macro; or from rational actors to social properties.
My third and last remark is that in Coleman's thinking, as in that of many rational choice theorists, explanation remains purely speculative. With a few exceptions, such as the historical example of "live and let live" borrowed from Ashworth, we do not have sufficient empirical data on the social processes leading to norm emergence. Suppose we acknowledge that norms are intentionally produced and that individuals, who initiate and maintain them, benefit from behaving in compliance with norms for fear of punishment; suppose that the externalities produced by actions are among the conditions for norm emergence; suppose further that we acknowledge that bilateral exchange or the market are not able to regulate behavior. All these conditions, and the theorem of norm existence, are still no more than primitive propositions for a simulation model that could only generate theoretical data. (98)
An important implication of this passage, and the analysis offered in the first two articles, is that there is no simple answer to the question, what is the relation between micro and macro in the social world? Here is Cherkaoui's alternative to Coleman's Boat in application to Weber's theory of the Protestant Ethic. This diagram indicates a substantially more complex relationship between macro and micro causal factors. And it stipulates causal processes that move back and forth between higher and lower levels of social organization and action.

(Here is an interesting interview with Cherkaoui conducted by Hamid Berrada (in French).)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Epochs and the social actor

It was suggested in an earlier post that important aspects of an individual's mental furniture are influenced by the concrete historical and social circumstances in which he or she is raised (link). Let's try to get a little more specific about this idea. How does historical context influence the behavior of the individuals who come to adulthood during its scope?

There are several kinds of practical cognitive features that seem to be historically conditioned. By "practical cognition" I mean the processes through which actors conceptualize their social environments, make sense of the activities going on around them, process their own desires and goals, and set out with a plan or strategy of action.

I can think of at least four largely independent features of social and practical cognition that seem to be importantly dependent on the social and historical context in which the individual develops from childhood to adulthood: social frameworks of interpretation; social norms; practices and habits; and enduring features of character. Let's look at each of these in turn.

Framework of assumptions about the social world. We generally apprehend the social interactions that take place around us through stylized interpretive frameworks or models that we apply to the encounters we observe.  This seems to be particularly true when it comes to interpreting social interactions that involve power, gender, race, or ethnic identities. An observed social interaction between several actors does not bear its meaning on its sleeve; it is necessary for observers to tell themselves some kind of story about what the actions and interactions mean. And often enough those stories are couched in terms of a variety of stereotypes based on a small number of cues in the interaction.

Social norms of behavior. When individuals consider their routine choices in ordinary life, they are influenced by a range of norms and values that guide and constrain their actions.

Practices and habits. A key insight from pragmatist theory of action is the observation that much action is not deliberative and reasoned, but is rather the result of the application of one or more pertinent practices and habits. When a professor is challenged about a grade on a paper, he or she often slips into a routine set of answers. When a prosecutor approaches a defense witness he or she has a stock set of tactics and techniques for undermining the credibility of the witness. And when a politician faces a heckler, he or she likewise turns to familiar responses that have been fine-tuned in other similar circumstances.

Enduring features of character and personality.  One person is decisive, while another vacillates. One person has courage, while another is blocked by fear. One person has a strong sense of loyalty, while another is willing to jettison relationships when interests shift. In each case, the features of behavior and action that are described here seem to derive from enduring features of the individual's mental world, not simply opportunistic adjustments to circumstances. Decisiveness, loyalty, and courage are virtues of character that some people possess in great measure and others do not.

Two things seem evident as we work our way through this list.

First, it is logical to infer that differences across these dimensions of practical cognition results in differences in behavior. The individual who perceives the social world in terms of gender or racial inferiority will behave differently from the person whose basic framework highlights human equality. People who have internalized the norm, "treat people fairly," will act differently in an industrial strike than those who have not internalized this norm. The person who has internalized a set of practices that involve quick tit-for-tat response to perceived affront will behave differently from one whose practices and habits involve forbearance. And a person whose character includes a strong dose of decisiveness is likely to behave differently in a crisis from one who has difficulty deciding about what tie to wear in the morning.

Second, each of these features of social cognitive seem to be strongly shaped by the social experiences and social epistemology of the period. The assumptions we make about other people -- the social frameworks we use for making sense of the world -- are clearly learned through social experiences in our early years. A person immersed in an anti-Semitic or homophobic culture is likely enough to have fairly specific stereotypes in mind (frameworks) when trying to understand developments in the world he or she encounters. This is true for the social norms that we have internalized as well. The habits of interaction and response that we currently possess are surely the learned consequences of the interactions we have had with other people in the past, in a range of circumstances. And the habits of courage, truthfulness, and loyalty that we have embodied in our system of action and thought are likewise the learned consequences of important experiences in our early years.

These points highlight the importance of the individual's experiences in childhood and adolescence in a variety of contexts: family, school, neighborhood, juvenile detention center, literature, television, or church or mosque. But history comes into this story at this point: there are some events that are sufficiently dramatic and pervasive that we can make a case for holding that they have a seismic influence on the processes of socialization through which the actor takes shape. Sometimes history presents its generation with a single decisive blast -- Hiroshima or September 11. And sometimes the historical factor is prolonged and extended -- the deprivations of the Great Leap Forward for rural Chinese people, the terror created in Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge. And in each type of case, it seems credible that the mentality of the people of an epoch are influenced by these historical events and circumstances in very fundamental ways -- ways that give them distinctive modes of action and reaction.

Take the experience of coming to maturity in the Jim Crow South, as either a white man or a black woman. The Jim Crow South embodied a very specific set of ideas and norms about race and gender that were enforced, often with violence, when they were violated. Jim Crow society offered men and women, black and white, a bundle of modes of behavior for how to act in stylized circumstances. These are practices and habits. And surely some very distinctive features of personality and character emerged from the Jim Crow South as well, in both black and white southerners, and both women and men in the region.

So it seems reasonable to suggest that historical settings do have the power to affect the nature of social agency within their scope. Epochs create and shape actors within them.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Gradual institutional change

Here are some very fundamental questions that we can ask about social institutions -- the relatively durable sets of rules, practices, and norms through which a variety of human social activity is conducted.
  • How are institutions formed? 
  • How do they work -- what are the enforcement mechanisms that exist within institutions that induce participants to conform to the rules? 
  • What factors support the stability of an institution over time? 
  • What kinds of processes lead to change within institutions over time? 
  • And why are institutions sometimes swept away and replaced wholesale? 
These are among the most fundamental questions that theories of institutions need to answer: how do they start, how are they sustained, and how do they change.

James Mahoney and Kathleen Thelen undertake to provide a basis for answering the fourth question here -- the question of gradual change. Their volume, Explaining Institutional Change: Ambiguity, Agency, and Power, provides a simple but compelling answer: institutions change when position holders within them find circumstances in which they have both an opportunity and an incentive to change or reinterpret the rules in ways that serve their interests.

The issue of the internal processes of change within an institution is of interest here for several reasons. But central among them is the idea of plasticity that has been described in earlier posts (link, link, link). The basic idea of plasticity is that institutions and organizations are the product of various kinds of structured human action, and that they can change over time. So we shouldn't think of institutions as having fixed characteristics, or as though they were equilibrium systems that tend to return to their original states after perturbances. Mahoney and Thelen's volume demonstrates some of the ways in which this plasticity emerges; they prove an account of the mechanisms of gradual institutional change. And this approach makes plain the high degree of path-dependency that institutions display.

Here is how Mahoney and Thelen frame their research problem:
A growing body of work suggests that important changes often take place incrementally and through seemingly small adjustments that can, however, cumulate into significant institutional transformation. (preface) 
Once created, institutions often change in subtle and gradual ways over time. Although less dramatic than abrupt and wholesale transformations, these slow and piecemeal changes can be equally consequential for patterning human behavior and for shaping substantive political outcomes. (1) 
We have good theories of why various kinds of basic institutional configurations -- constitutions, welfare systems, and property right arrangements -- come into being in certain cases and at certain times. And we have theories to explain those crucial moments when these institutional configurations are upended and replaced with fundamentally new ones. But still lacking are equally useful tools for explaining the more gradual evolution of institutions once they have been established. (2)
The theory they offer of gradual institutional change is an actor-centered theory. Incremental change occurs as the result of the opportunistic and strategic choices made by a range of actors within the institution. In this respect it resembles the theories discussed earlier of Fligstein and McAdam (link) and Crozier and Friedberg (link). Consider the following series of comments:
We argue that institutional change often occurs precisely when problems of rule interpretation and enforcement open up space for actors to implement existing rules in new ways. (4) 
But institutional outcomes need not reflect the goals of any particular group; they may be the unintended outcome of conflict among groups or the result of "ambiguous compromises" among actors who can coordinate on institutional means even if they differ on substantive goals. (8) 
Given a view of institutional stability that rests not just on the accumulation but also on the ongoing mobilization of resources, one important source of change will be shifts in the balance of power. (8)
We propose that the basic properties of institutions contain within them possibilities for change. What animates change is the power-distributional implications of institutions. However, where we expect incremental change to emerge is precisely in the "gaps" or "soft spots" between the rule and its interpretation or the rule and its enforcement. (13)
These descriptions conform very well with the description of organizations offered by Fligstein and McAdam in their theory of strategic action fields (link). The theory of change offered by Mahoney and Thelen is an agent-centered view, and therefore has strong affinities with the strategic action field theory and the view of organizations offered by Crozier and Friedberg.

Institutions are generally thought of as "shaping" factors on human action and choice; individuals construct their actions and strategies within the context of the rules and norms of various institutions. But how do the rules of an organization actually constrain behavior?  Mahoney and Thelen do not take compliance within an institution as a given; instead, they look for the interests and opportunities of various agents within the organization or institution that interlock to secure compliance. This sounds a lot like "governance units" in the Fligstein and McAdam theory of strategic action fields.
If, instead, we break with a view of institutions as self-reinforcing (through whatever mechanism) and put distributional issues front and center, compliance emerges as a variable, and a variable that is crucially important to the analysis of both stability and change. The need to enforce institutions carries its own dynamic of potential change, emanating not just from the politically contested nature of institutional rules but also, importantly, from a degree of openness in the interoperation and implementation of these rules. (10)
Much of the content of the book takes the form of case studies of particular complexes of institutions in the midst of historical change.  Particularly interesting is Dan Slater's analysis of the autocratic institutions of governance crafted by Suharto throughout his regime (1966-1998) ("Altering Authoritarianism: Institutional Complexity and Autocratic Agency in Indonesia"). This period is often treated as a homogeneous block of authoritarian military rule, but Slater argues that there was substantial institutional change throughout the period.
Ostensibly a model of long-term stability, the Suharto regime in fact experienced a gradual but significant transformation of its core institutional features. What started as a system of oligarchic military rule evolved into a highly personalized regime, backed in nearly equal measure by military and civilian organizations. (132)
The upshot was the gradual transformation of a collectivistic military-dominated regime (or "junta") into a highly personalized regime, perched atop a mixed party-military infrastructure (or a "strongman" regime with pronounced elements of "bossism"). (139) 
Slater analyzes the strategic situations of the primary political players: Suharto, the mass political parties, and the military. And he understands the transition described here as one that followed from the strategic moves made by these players, with Suharto's hand being the most influential. But this is a key point: Suharto was not able to simply command the changes he sought, and the outcomes reflected the agency of other important social actors as well.

Alan Jacobs' treatment of the U.S. Social Security Program is also very interesting, as is Tulia Falleti's account of health care reforms in Brazil between 1964 and 1988. Each case study provides just what Mahoney and Thelen call for in their introduction: careful, detailed studies of institutions in a process of change.

It is worth noting that all the examples treated in this collection are concerned with large institutions -- the Brazilian policy arena, the Suharto dictatorship, the U.S. Social Security Program. It makes the reader wonder whether similar results would emerge when more meso-level institutions and organizations are studied: the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the IBM Corporation, or the Michigan Department of Human Services. Do the observations about the strategic interactions of primary players within the institution play an equally important role in change within institutions at this level of scale? I drew a parallel between the Mahoney-Thelen approach to institutional change and the theories of Fligstein and McAdam, as well as Crozier and Friedberg. But this appears to be a salient difference -- the scale of the institutions to which the analysis is applied. The latter two theories seem to be developed with primary emphasis on smaller-scale institutions and organizations.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Are there online solutions to rising college costs?

There are many, many voices offering observations and criticisms of universities in face of rising costs and tuitions. But none is more qualified than Bill Bowen to address these issues. He is the preeminent economist and analyst of the institutions of American universities, and he was a long-serving president of Princeton University. So it is a treat to read his recent set of Tanner lectures on this topic, Higher Education in the Digital Age. (The Kindle edition became available today; link.)

On the cost side, Bowen has a very clear and reasonable understanding of why university costs tend to rise more rapidly than inflation. Universities are very labor-intensive organizations, and the largest component of their workforce are highly skilled and nationally competitive faculty. But highly skilled professionals on university faculties are linked to employment markets outside of academia, and salaries in those external markets continue to rise healthily. To maintain excellence in research and teaching, universities need to increase compensation annually, and often at rates that are moderately higher than inflation. There are other cost drivers that Bowen doesn't discuss -- i.e. rising healthcare costs -- but competition for the best faculty is key. (It is unfortunate that he uses the phrase "cost disease," which implies that the rising cost structure in higher education is somehow a chronic failure within the sector, rather than an inherent feature of the nature of the work.)

Moreover, Bowen correctly notes that processes leading to productivity gain in other parts of the economy have not been possible in the teaching and research environment. Teaching undergraduates is a time-consuming activity for skilled professors, and reducing the time per student means lowering the quality of learning that occurs.
The basic idea is simple: in labor-intensive industries such as the performing arts and education, there is less opportunity than in other sectors to increase productivity by, for example, substituting capital for labor. (3)
Bowen quotes Robert Frank who observed that "it still takes four musicians nine minutes to perform Beethoven's String Quartet No. 4, just as it did in the nineteenth century" (4).

To be sure, universities need to continue to improve productivity in the routine business and management of the institution, and most universities have become very adept at this effort. But the compensation costs of maintaining a nationally competitive faculty generally outweigh these savings, so the cost of instruction per student continues to rise slightly ahead of inflation. (Bowen and others estimate this premium at about one percent; 4.)

Bowen also spends some effort on analyzing "productivity" in the context of universities. Some aspects of university outcomes are easily quantified -- degrees awarded, time to degree, performance on standardized tests. But Bowen makes a key point when he observes that perhaps the most important outcome -- educational quality -- is not measurable; and yet leaders, faculty, and managers of universities must remain committed to maintaining and enhancing the quality of the education they provide. And quality has a cost. Bowen makes interesting use of a New England Journal of Medicine article on IT innovations and productivity; link.  Here is a relevant publication from the National Academy Press authored by Teresa Sullivan and others, Improving Measurement of Productivity in Higher Education (link).

In order to fundamentally change the cost structure of a university education, it would be necessary to do one of two possible things: either significantly increase the number of students for whom a single faculty member is responsible (greatly increasing the student-faculty ratio), or increase the number of lower-paid instructors whose job responsibilities are more limited than the current system (full responsibility of all details of a single course, research activity, participation in departmental affairs, ...). Both of these pathways seem like significant steps away from the learning intimacy that Bowen extolls in the experience of a residential college. "Flipping the classroom" and maintaining or increasing the amount of faculty contact with students sounds like a great learning solution -- but it doesn't reduce costs.

What is most interesting about the book is the second lecture, "Prospects for an Online Fix." Since many breathless voices have started to argue that online education and MOOCs are a breakthrough technology for universities and colleges that will render the traditional classroom obsolete, Bowen's take on this question is an important one. His overall assessment is a measured one. He thinks that there is some reason to expect that blended pedagogy and curriculum may in fact be possible in ways that enhance learning and reduce the cost curve. But he also points out that there are only a limited number of rigorous studies of learning outcomes for online and face-to-face instruction, and these studies do not support a clear advantage for either modality. Essentially the most common findings are that learning outcomes are roughly similar in online and face-to-face classes. More importantly, though, he finds that there is very little rigorous research available to evaluate the possibility of cost savings through online instruction. And without significant (and growing) cost savings, the technology shift does not affect the cost curve.

So where does Bowen's current cautious optimism about online and blended instruction come from? Several things seem to have influenced him since his Romanes Lecture at Oxford in 2000, which was significantly more dubious about the prospects for cost-reducing, effective online university instruction. One is the cluster of innovations in software-based quizzing, coaching, and tutoring that have occurred in the past ten years. Another is the finding of some studies that faculty and online course designers are beginning to get the hang of how to use the online medium to greater pedagogical effect than simply placing a traditional course online with existing materials and techniques. And a third, on the learning-outcomes side, is the educational payoff that may result from "flipping the classroom" -- relieving the faculty member from lectures and using face-to-face time for discussion, coaching, and probing of learning quality.

The kinds of courses that are most frequently studied in research about online education are generally on the technical side of the curriculum: statistics, accounting, and calculus have been studied for learning outcomes by both approaches. We might imagine that entry-level courses in the sciences, engineering, and business might fall in the same general scope. But what about courses in humanities, human resources, marketing, ethnography, history, or sociology? Are there online pedagogies that would offer an effective base for learning in these fields? How can we be assured that the abstract cognitive and analytical skills associated with art history, philosophy, or computer design are actually being developed in the students who take these kinds of courses online?

Here is the vision that Bowen ultimately offers of the "university in the digital world":
Can we imagine a university in which
  • Faculty collaborate more on teaching (with technology serving as the forcing function)?
  • Faculty devote more of their time to promoting "active learning" by their students and are freed from much of the tedium of grading and even giving essentially the same lecture countless times?
  • Students receive more, and more timely, individualized feedback on assignments?
  • Instruction is guided by evidence drawn from massive amounts of data on how students learn, what mistakes students commonly make, and how misunderstandings underlying those mistakes can be corrected ("adaptive learning")?
  • Technology is used to bring the perspectives of a more diverse student body onto its campus through its capacity to engage students from around the world?
  • Technology extends the educational process throughout one's life through the educational equivalent of booster shots? And ideally:
  • A university in which institutional costs and tuition charges rise at a slower rate? (44)
And Bowen now seems to think that this favorable outcome is possible, using new tools available to faculty and academic leaders:
I am today a convert. I have come to believe that now is the time. Far greater access to the Internet, improvements in Internet speed, reductions in storage costs, the proliferation of increasingly sophisticated mobile devices, and other advances have combined with changing mindsets to suggest that online learning, in many of its manifestations, can lead to at least comparable learning outcomes relative to face-to-face instruction at lower-cost. (45)
What is surprising to me about Bowen's current optimism is that it seems premature, given Bowen's own commitment to rigorous measures of quality and costs. As he points out repeatedly in the lecture, the high-quality studies of educational effectiveness are not yet available in sufficient volume to permit confident conclusions; and studies of the cost structure of online and blended instruction are even less detailed.

But more concerning is the issue of defining more adequately the kinds of intellectual and social maturation we most want to stimulate with an undergraduate education, and whether the pedagogies that emerge in online education are effective in creating those forms of development. It is one thing to help a student learn the central doctrines of Descartes, Hume, and Kant as a list of propositions; it is quite another to help him or her to think critically, creatively, empathetically, and innovatively about the philosophical developments and social context that stimulated these ideas about rationalism and empiricism.

A related concern is the problem of generating student engagement in learning. The best classes I have had in my career as a philosophy professor have been those in which students gained an excitement and engagement with the issues which led them to want to learn more about the subject. They wanted to discuss ideas in the class and outside the class; they were happy to be steered towards additional readings; they took on the subject matter as their own. How does this form of intellectual engagement emerge from an online class? How does the learning become personal? How does the student acquire a stake in the learning and an intellectual passion for taking it further? Bowen recognizes the importance of direct contact with professors in generating this kind of engagement (67-68); but he suggests, somehow, that this personal contact will be increasingly the province of the richer institutions. "The mix will vary by institutional type, and relatively wealthy liberal arts colleges and selective universities can be expected to offer more in-person teaching than can many less privileged institutions" (68). But what if the in-person contact is actually the secret sauce -- the ingredient that makes the recipe work?

I still remember taking the GRE in philosophy as a senior philosophy student at the University of Illinois in 1971. It struck me as being no more than a scholastic joke, probing for the student's knowledge about names and key doctrines in the history of philosophy without any real ability to assess philosophical cognitive skills. This standardized exam had nothing whatsoever to do with real philosophical thinking, or the skills of reasoning and questioning that begin to contribute to one's being a capable philosopher. I fear that online education in philosophy and other areas of the humanities would be vulnerable to exactly this fatal weakness: emphasizing facts and formal structures of doctrines, but giving short shrift to development of the critical skills that are needed to make sense of the issues in the field. Could we imagine Wittgenstein without Frege and Russell?

(Here is an excellent survey of current research on online education by Bowen and Kelly Lack; link.)

Friday, April 5, 2013

Organizations and strategic action fields

image: Hierarchical modularity of nested bow-ties in metabolic networks, Jing Zhao, Hong Yu, Jian-Hua Luo, Zhi-Wei Cao  and Yi-Xue Li (link)

Neil Fligstein and Doug McAdam provide a full exposition of their theory of strategic action fields in A Theory of Fields. As observed in an earlier post, this theory presents an innovative way of thinking about the composition of the social.

The basic idea is that the fundamental structure of social life is "agents behaving strategically within a field of resources and other agents." Here is a preliminary description of strategic action fields.
A strategic action field is a constructed mesolevel social order in which actors (who can be individual or collective) are attuned to and interact with one another on the basis of shared (which is not to say consensual) understandings about the purposes of the field, relationships to others in the field (including who has power and why), and the rules governing legitimate action in the field. A stable field is one in which the main actors are able to reproduce themselves and the field over a fairly long period of time. (1)
Fligstein and McAdam do not give fundamental ontological status to structures or organizations, and they do not presuppose a dichotomy between agents and structures. Instead, organizations and institutions are ensembles of agents-in-fields, at a range of levels. Here is what they have to say about firms, which can be extended to organizations more generally:
Firms are nested strategic action fields in which there are hierarchical dependent relationships between the component fields. Each plant and office is a strategic action field in its own right. Typically firms are organized into larger divisions in which management controls resource allocation and hiring. (59)
This theory possesses microfoundations; this is the thrust of the second chapter in the book. Their account is largely organized around the idea of social skill at the level of the actor. What I want to explore here, though, is the "macro-sociology" of the theory. In particular, how do our concepts of meso-level social structures like institutions and organizations get parsed when we use the language of strategic action fields? And substantively, how can we account for the relative level of stability that organizations and institutions possess, if they are simply composites of strategically motivated actors? This description suggests a high degree of fluidity, as strategies and coalitions shift. But instead, we observe a high level of stability in organizations much of the time, persisting over multiple generations of actors.

The answer seems to derive from the idea that F&M introduce of "internal governance units."
In addition to incumbents and challengers, many strategic action fields have internal governance units that are charged with overseeing compliance with field rules and, in general, facilitating the overall smooth functioning and reproduction of the system. (13)
Organizations are configured around incumbents who are assigned roles and powers that give them both an interest and an ability to maintain the workings of the organization. So stability is not a primitive quality of an organization; instead, it is a consequence of the specific interlocking assignments of interests and powers within the various networks of agents that make up the organization. Stability is a dynamic feature of the organization, reproduced by the actions of incumbents. And change in the organization occurs when there is significant alteration in those interests and powers.
Field stability is generally achieved in one of two ways: the imposition of hierarchical power by a single dominant group or the creation of some kind of political coalition based on the cooperation of a number of groups. (14)
On this approach, then, stability is a consequence of the configuration of a given system of strategic fields, rather than an axiomatic property of the organization.

There is a great deal of consonance between this theory and the ideas about organizations and actors put forward by Crozier and Friedberg some forty years ago in Actors and Systems: The Politics of Collective Action; here is an earlier post on their work. Crozier and Friedberg too looked at organizations as arenas of strategic and opportunistic action by agents. They too emphasized the role of cooperation and alliances within organizations. And they too looked at organizations as solutions to problems of collective action. There is no indication that Fligstein and McAdam were directly influenced by Crozier, and indeed the research communities including both are fairly distinct. So this looks like a case of independent discovery of a new idea rather than sequential development of this idea. It looks more like the case of Wallace and Darwin in the discovery of natural selection, than Darwin and Huxley in the development of that idea.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Moral intuitions as evolutionary modules

People have moral reactions to the situations they observe around themselves -- within the work environment, in the family, on the street, or in international affairs. This is a psychological fact that is prior to moral philosophy. How should we understand this feature of ordinary human consciousness and cognition?

Jonathan Haidt is a moral psychologist who has some fairly original ideas on this subject. His most recent book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, attempts to lay out a theory of moral psychology that puts moral intuition and judgment ahead of conscious moral reasoning, and independent from the content of what we refer to as moral philosophy.

Moral philosophers often take their cue from Immanuel Kant's moral philosophy, according to which moral judgment is a conscious process of reasoning. Haidt suggests a very different way of understanding our moral reactions -- as intuitions more similar to sensations of taste than considered rational judgments based on principles and facts. In fact, he identifies six "moral taste receptors": harm, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority, and sanctity (kl 103). Essentially, our moral intuitions about a complex situation stem from the degree to which these "receptors" are triggered by features of the situation. And the moral reaction comes first, whereas the moral reasoning and arguments come after the fact.

Haidt also works within the intellectual framework of evolutionary biology -- the idea that the enduring traits of a species are the result of a long process of innovation, selection, and adaptation, governed by the selective reproductive success created by the trait. This puts him in roughly the same intellectual space as the sociobiologists; but his approach has much greater sensitivity to the nuances of moral intuitions and dispositions than scientists like E. O. Wilson have shown (On Human Nature: Revised Edition). (It should be noted that Haidt praises Wilson's work on human nature and evolutionary psychology; kl 655.)

I've used the term "moral emotions" here, but Haidt actually prefers something else: moral intuitions. He describes his view as "social intuitionism." Intuitions are the quick judgments we come to about situations before we have time to think them through in a cognitive fashion. Disgust is a paradigm intuition: the quick revulsion we have at the idea of drinking a glass of blended cockroaches and fruit juice is prior to any rational concerns we might eventually have about health effects. The basic premise is this:
Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second. (kl 989)
Haidt offers six principles of moral intuition and thought based on experimental findings:
  1. Brains evaluate instantly and constantly.
  2. Social and political judgments are particularly intuitive.
  3. Our bodies guide our judgments.
  4. Psychopaths reason but don't feel.
  5. Babies feel but don't reason.
  6. Affective reactions are in the right place at the right time in the brain.
If moral reactions have an intuitive-cognitive basis, then it is natural to ask how these reactions are structured and classified. Haidt offers this interesting preliminary classification of the "moral modules" and their triggers in our moral intuition system:

This is a very interesting presentation of the dimensions of moral intuition: care/harm; fairness/cheating; loyalty/betrayal; authority/subversion; and sanctity/degradation. Each pair has a potential role to play in the early evolutionary history of hominids as social organisms: protecting and caring for children, securing cooperation with others, forming coalitions, forming hierarchies, and avoiding toxic contamination. And, finally, Haidt suggests how these characteristics relate to a set of virtues: kindness, fairness, loyalty, deference, and temperance, for example. (Only "liberty" is omitted from his original list of the moral receptors provided above.)

This topic is of interest here for several reasons. One is the straightforward interest that we all have in understanding better where moral reactions come from. But the other is a more theoretical interest: to have a broader set of ideas about how consciousness and action work in real human beings. Haidt offers a clear and in some ways testable theory of how moral emotions and intuitions interact with rational deliberation, and this is a valuable contribution to the theory of the actor that we so plainly need in the social sciences.