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The Theory of Multi-Modal Social Action: Reconceptualizing Interaction and Games

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Burns, Tom R.; Gomolinska, Anna
Conference: Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study in the Social Sciences (SCASSS)
Location: Sweden
Conf. Date: November 26
Date: 1999
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10535/8124
Sector: Theory
Region:
Subject(s): game theory
social change
action research
rules
boundaries
rational choice theory
social behavior
Abstract: "Part One of this paper formulates a theory of social action and interaction (SIT), synthesizing a series of articles dating from the early 1970s. It postulates that there are multiple bases and forms of cognition, evaluation, and action. In a word, action is not one thing. It may be normative, rational, instrumental habitual, theatrical, or possibly all of these at the same time. SIT provides a language and conceptual apparatus with which to describe, model, and explain social action and interaction processes and patterns. The theory can be characterized as an institutional/role based approach. The paper introduces key concepts such as rule, rule complex, role, multi-modal social action, institution, and social equilibrium. Among other things, we conceptualize and model routine, habitual types of action and interaction as well as more deliberate forms, in particular instrumental and normative rationalities. The paper also formulates a concept of social equilibrium. Social equilibria are defined in SIT as states of social reality which are judged as right and proper, for instance on normative grounds of fairness and legitimacy. This means not only that actors collectively orient and value (or feel compelled to value) these states but recognize that others are oriented in such ways. To the extent that people orient this way in practice and act on this basis (or act as if they are normatively oriented in such a way), then an infrastructure of social equilibria obtains - patterning and ordering significant parts of social life. This makes for a degree of social order, certainty, predictability, complex, higher order strategies and planning. Part Two of the paper applies SIT to the analysis of selected classical games, with the aim of explaining patterns of interaction and equilibria, either social equilibria (commanding normative force) as well as pragmatic or situational equilibria (lacking common normative force). Some games in the context of particular relationships are found to lack equilibria altogether, either social or pragmatic types. Part Two also explores and defines the bounds or limits of interaction patterns and social equilibria based on particular social relationships. Such bounds are a function of loyalties, values and norms associated with extraneous social relationships or institutions, which enter into actors' value judgments, decisions and actions in the given interaction situation. They set bounds on and destabilize interaction patterns and social equilibria of the social relationship. A concluding section compares and contrasts on a few dimensions of action and interaction SIT to the rational choice (and game theoretic) approach to human action and interaction."

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