Social Commitments in a Depersonalized World

Social Commitments in a Depersonalized World

Edward J. Lawler
Shane R. Thye
Jeongkoo Yoon
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Social Commitments in a Depersonalized World
    Book Description:

    As individuals’ ties to community organizations and the companies they work for weaken, many analysts worry that the fabric of our society is deteriorating. But others counter that new social networks, especially those forming online, create important and possibly even stronger social bonds than those of the past. In Social Commitments in a Depersonalized World, Edward Lawler, Shane Thye, and Jeongkoo Yoon examine interpersonal and group ties and propose a new theory of social commitments, showing that multiple interactions, group activities and, particularly, emotional attachment, are essential for creating and sustaining alignments between individuals and groups. Lawler, Thye, and Yoon acknowledge that long-term social attachments have proven fragile in a volatile economy where people increasingly form transactional associations—based not on collective interest but on what will yield the most personal advantage in a society shaped by market logic. Although person-to-group bonds may have become harder to sustain, they continue to play a vital role in maintaining healthy interactions in larger social groups from companies to communities. Drawing on classical and contemporary sociology, organizational psychology, and behavioral economics, Social Commitments in a Depersonalized World shows how affiliations—particularly those that involve a profound emotional component—can transcend merely instrumental or transactional ties and can even transform these impersonal bonds into deeply personal ones. The authors study the structures of small groups, corporations, economic transactions, and modern nation-states to determine how hierarchies, task allocation, and social identities help or hinder a group’s vitality. They find that such conditions as equal status, interdependence, and overlapping affiliations figure significantly in creating and sustaining strong person-to-group bonds. Recurring collaboration with others to achieve common goals—along with shared responsibilities and equally valued importance within an organization—promote positive and enduring feelings that enlarge a person’s experience of a group and the significance of their place within it. Employees in organizations with strong person-to-group ties experience a more unified, collective identity. They tend to work more cost effectively, meet company expectations, and better regulate their own productivity and behavior. The authors make clear that the principles of their theory have implications beyond business. With cultures pulling apart and crashing together like tectonic plates, much depends on our ability to work collectively across racial, cultural, and political divides. The new theory in Social Commitments in a Depersonalized World provides a way of thinking about how groups form and what it takes to sustain them in the modern world.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-660-0
    Subjects: Sociology, Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xviii)
    Edward J. Lawler, Shane R. Thye and Jeongkoo Yoon
  5. CHAPTER 1 Introduction: Person-to-Group Ties
    (pp. 1-11)

    In the fall of 2007, Alex Rodriguez, a star baseball player for the New York Yankees, opted to exercise an option in his contract to become a “free agent.” This allowed him to negotiate a new contract with any team prepared to bid for his services. He had two years left on his contract with the Yankees, so he did not need to do this. His stated reasons for opting out were uncertainty about the direction of the Yankee organization (which was undergoing management changes at the time) and concerns that some other players on the team whose contracts had...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Narratives of Social Transformation
    (pp. 12-30)

    The millennial change to the twenty-first century has ushered in a plethora of broad analyses and commentaries on the life of people today, the futures that are plausible and probable, and how existing social institutions might adapt in response. A pervasive theme of these analyses is that the world is in the midst of truly fundamental transformations across virtually all realms of human activity—political, economic, social, and environmental. What do these analyses foretell? The common view is that the twenty-first century is introducing a new age and a new order with an uncertain trajectory and the expectation of radical...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Affect in Social Interaction
    (pp. 31-48)

    The twentieth-century bank robber and escape artist Willie Sutton, the original “Slick Willie,” robbed nearly one hundred banks during his thirty-year career, from 1920 to 1952.¹ When asked why he robbed banks, Sutton famously responded: “Because that’s where the money is!” This quote, now known as “Sutton’s Law,” expresses a simple principle that has found its way into speeches and articles on topics ranging from bond issues to medical practice, religious matters, and, in surprisingly few cases, bank robberies. Simply put, it directs one to check the most obvious answers first.² However, Sutton never actually gave this amusing and suggestive...

  8. CHAPTER 4 A Theory of Social Commitments
    (pp. 49-72)

    Commitments entail beliefs and feelings about a group, and they are manifest in choices to stay with, invest in, or sacrifice for a relationship, group, organization, or community. These choices can be based on purely instrumental considerations, in which case people perceive a transaction between themselves and the group. They give to the group and receive benefits in return, and as such, their person-to-group tie is transactional. Social commitments, as we conceive them, have something more—namely, a tie that involves feelings and sentiments about the group or group affiliation and beliefs about the normative or moral properties of the...

  9. CHAPTER 5 The Structural Foundations of Groups
    (pp. 73-91)

    This chapter uses the theory of social commitments to identify the structural conditions that give rise to groups and group-oriented behaviors.Social structurerefers broadly to how individuals or groups relate to one another—specifically, the ties that are possible (structural opportunities) and the ties that are realized (actual relations). A group minimally involves actual ties to a social unit that people perceive as distinct and “out there” (Berger and Luckmann 1966; Tajfel and Turner 1986). The subjective, cognitive dimension is critical. Groups do not always form from a set of ties because people do not always perceive those ties...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Local Commitments in Organizations
    (pp. 92-111)

    Large organizations such as multinational corporations, labor unions, government agencies, and nationwide nonprofits have differentiated sub-units nested within them. These may be business units (companies) within a corporation, a local union within a state federation of labor unions, departments in a city government, or local chapters in a national volunteer organization. Nested sub-units pose well-known problems of coordination, fragmentation, and communication that broadly translate into a problem of order. This chapter addresses the commitment aspect of such problems and is organized around a theory of nested commitments (see Lawler 1992).

    Nested sub-units pose problems of order in part because they...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Commitments in Hierarchy and Network Forms of Organization
    (pp. 112-126)

    A central purpose of this volume is to understand how and when transactional ties are transformed into relational ties. The minimal requirement for this to occur is that people engage in repeated transactions with the same others. The relational ties that emerge from repeated transactions, however, can involve different organizational forms. Hierarchies and networks are fundamental organizing structures for repeated transactions, and importantly, they are distinct from markets (see, for example, Swedberg 2003). Hierarchies, networks, and markets have been construed as the most basic “forms of governance” in economics and sociology (Williamson 1985; Powell 1990). This chapter uses the theory...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Social Inequality and Order at the Micro Level
    (pp. 127-144)

    In 2006 the U.S. Post Office announced that it was going to break up the 10021 zip code that historically had been assigned to the Upper East Side of Manhattan, New York. Some parts of the Upper East Side would retain the 10021 zip code, while other parts would be assigned a new zip code. This announcement was met with protests, both individual and collective, by residents of the Upper East Side. Some residents refused to stop using the 10021 zip code. Upon first glance, this response is surprising. Why would people become so attached to a particular zip code?...

  13. CHAPTER 9 Nationalist Sentiments in Modern States
    (pp. 145-165)

    Is the nation-state in decline? In a world of highly interdependent nations, do nation-states lose autonomy and power? Given increasingly open and free international markets, are there growing constraints on the capacity of states to provide their citizens with valued services and protections (see Rodrik 1997)? Is the nation-state’s decentralization or devolution of services and functions to sub-units (provinces, states, cities) making those sub-units more salient and important to people than the central, overarching state (Ferejohn and Weingast 1997; Rodden 2006)? In the context of globalization and its correlates, are the attachments of people to their nation eroding? Such questions...

  14. CHAPTER 10 Mechanisms of Social Order
    (pp. 166-185)

    The theory of social commitments is a theory about mechanisms of social order. By mechanism we mean a fundamental process or phenomenon through which social structures—micro and macro—produce social order in the form of stable, reliable practices, policies, and interactions. The principal mechanism for us is affect, grounded in the emotions people feel when they interact with others. This mechanism entails a micro-to-macro process wherein individual emotional experiences are associated with groups, organizations, communities, or nations. In chapters 3 and 4, we analyzed how and when the affective mechanism operates and showed its importance to social commitments in...

  15. CHAPTER 11 Conclusion
    (pp. 186-198)

    The “loss of community” has been a recurrent theme of the social sciences in the post–World War II era, a theme that harkens back to classic contrasts of agrarian communities (Gemeinschaft) and industrial societies (Gesellschaft). The general argument is that as human groups become larger, more complex, and differentiated, the sense of community suffers and depersonalization grows. Recent narratives about the changing world implicitly resurrect a loss-of-community theme without necessarily calling it that. In this contemporary narrative, human lives are becoming more private, individualized, and transactional, and thus it is difficult for people to develop and maintain relational ties,...

  16. NOTES
    (pp. 199-214)
    (pp. 215-235)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 236-246)