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[liberationtech] Solutions to surveillance, beyond tech & legal

Yosem Companys companys at stanford.edu
Wed Dec 18 09:16:12 PST 2013


>
> Shouldn't there be a pillar of *political engagement* where people get off
> the couch and out of their ergonomic chairs as a product of
> normative/cognitive et al effects -- that is somewhat to the side of what
> we generally think of as "legal/legislative" or "normative" effects but
> belongs in its own category as social movement smudging into civil unrest
> or asymmetrical actions?
>

Many social scientists believe that what people can create when they get
off the couch and out of their ergonomic chairs are institutions, which
according to new institutional theory come in at least four varieties: 1)
regulative (formal rules, sanctions & rewards, interests); 2) normative
(informal rules, social norms); 3) cultural-cognitive (ideas); and 4)
affective (emotions).

While political scientists and economists view institutions as entities,
psychologists and sociologists view them as any social agreement.  So, for
example, a psychologist or sociologist may consider a handshake an
(informal) institution because it's the result of a social norm that has
evolved over centuries to have a concrete cultural meaning.  But they would
also consider the NSA a (formal) institution, with its own regulative,
normative, cultural-cognitive, and affective agreements that govern the
organization.  Political scientists and economists, however, tend to focus
on the formal variety.

But the major recent theoretical developments have been on the focus of
institutional construction, with Fligstein and McAdam's theory of strategic
action fields particularly "hot" in sociology.  The theory emerges from the
study of social movements, so it's based on power dynamics.  The theory is
"concerned with the efforts of collective actors to vie for strategic
advantage in and through interaction with other groups in what can be seen
as meso-level social orders."  The theory employs the general consensus in
social science on the influence of uncertainty on human behavior.  Humans
tend to reproduce existing institutions in stable times; these institutions
are often seen as the source of injustice.  But they tend to depart from
existing institutions and seek to create new ones in times of uncertainty.

Fligstein and McAdam's article and book can be found here:
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-9558.2010.01385.x/pdf &
http://www.amazon.com/A-Theory-Fields-Neil-Fligstein/dp/0199859949

Some free, more colloquial reviews of the theory are here:
http://mobilizingideas.wordpress.com/2012/06/13/a-theory-of-fields-a-review/
, http://undsoc.org/2013/04/06/organizations-and-strategic-action-fields/,
http://orgtheory.wordpress.com/2011/03/23/fligstein-and-mcadam-on-strategic-action-fields/
 &
http://understandingsociety.blogspot.com/2012/09/strategic-action-fields.html


> As is true in most major political trainwrecks in DC, this is about power,
> money and influence on a grand scale.
>
> This is a game of thrones -- history doesn't end in history books.  People
> are still motivated by power, money and influence.  They are not "bad"
> people usually -- truly psychotic people are rarely stable enough to hold
> positions of leadership.  But they are venal, greedy, power hungry, and
> highly directed in their goals.
>

That's exactly the paradigmatic view of the world with which the above
theory starts.  The traditional theory of political action is that everyone
has equal access and influence to the halls of power.  Fligstein and
McAdam's theory starts with the assumption that power is unequally
distributed, and people will tend to innovate new challenges to that power
in times of uncertainty when there is an opportunity to do so and the
conviction that these new forms of action are being widely adopted and thus
have a chance to replace the existing social order.

Of course, this is just one theory.  There are many other theories and lots
of empirical evidence on various kinds of institutions in various settings
playing different roles and on how these institutions are created, enacted,
reproduced, changed, and even overthrown.
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