POEC 6313.501

Human Organizations and Social Theory

UT Dallas Spring 2016


Tuesday:  7:00pm-9:45pm

Murray J. Leaf

GR 3.108A  (New Room)

Office: GR 3.128

Course ID # 27785


Last update 24 Feb 2016

   Ext.  2732




Syllabi:  This syllabus is subject to change as we go along, but no changes will be made without first discussing them in class--apart from correcting errors or inserting afterthoughts following up on what we discussed.   Updates will be available on my personal website: murrayleaf.org. I will also try to post them on elearning and the course lookup, but the first is not friendly to links and the latter does not allow them at all.


Description:   This is a course is empirical social theory.  The theory can be characterized as pragmatic constructionist theory as contrasted with positivist structural-functional theory.  The latter type of theory consists of offering a description of a society as an entity that all of its people are in, that all organizations are part of, and that somehow “determines” all behavior.  The description is fundamentally ideological.  It is not intended to be an accurate description of any actual society, but to represent society in general in some sense, or societies of a certain type in general, such as “primitive society,”  “feudal society,” or “industrial society.” There is no sharp line between social theories of this type and political or religious ideologies.  Historically, there has been a strong association between positivistic structural-functional theories and arguments for authoritarianism or against democracy.


Beginning in the 19th century, the most important modern line includes Auguste Comte's "Theory of Positive Polity, " Herbert Spencer's "social Darwinism," and Marx's "Capital." For the 20th century includes French positivism associated with Emile Durkheim and German positivism associated with Max Weber, which continued into the post-war "structural-functional" theory of Talcott Parsons, Edward Shils, Clyde Kluckhohn, Marion Levy, and Robert K. Merton.  It also includes the theories of still more recent critics of structural functionalism including C. Wright Mills "powers elite," Clifford Geertz’s cultural interpretivism, H. Foucault's argument that society is somehow represented by an all-controlling prison, and Anthony Giddens' theory of "structuration."


This course is not concerned with theory of this type except to reject it.  Ideology is not science.  There is no total society.  There are many kinds of social organizations.  These organizations are not things we are “in” and that control us in mysterious ways.  They are things we construct and maintain in order to control ourselves and each other as best we can.  The problem is to describe the ways we do this exactly and comprehensively.  In this process, if a claim or description is false a little bit, it is false. 


Biological theory is an example good theory.  It does not consist in a set of competing views of an ideal organism.  It consists of experimentally grounded descriptions of all kinds of entities and processes that go into make any given organism what it is.  Instead of a "total system theory" we can describe this as a "theory of defined parts."  Pragmatic social-constructionist theory does the same for human societies. As far as I can tell it applies at all levels of scale and technological development, past and present. It describes the cultural tools people use in every human community to construct the organizations through which they organize their activities, how these organizations provide for their ongoing ecological adaptation, and how the adaptive process in turn maintains the cultural tools.


The main text for the course is my Human Organizations and Social Theory. This brings together the streams from my earlier writing and provides the most general and comprehensive social theory of this type that I am aware of.  Many other writers and literatures have delineated one or another of the parts and processes, and these analyses often include additional detail that I could not include.


Although I am an anthropologist and the theory is centered in anthropological field studies of human communities of all kinds, from all around the world, it is not exclusively so. Other fields from which analyses are drawn include philosophy, linguistics, sociology, law, political science, information theory, economics, and the physical sciences.


Since it is still a new course, I do not know how difficult you will find the reading and what you will be able to do in addition, so we will work together to find out. I would like to conduct the course seminar style, with each student analyzing a section and leading a discussion.   That way you can say what you understand and describe difficulties you may see, and I can respond.   Since there are ten chapters, we can take a week or two on each, and also have time for other relevant articles.


The Text:  The only thing you will have to buy is Murray J. Leaf, 2009, Human Organizations and Social Theory. University of Illinois Press.  ISBN:  978-0-252-03424-4.   Everything else will be on JSTOR or other library resources, or on the Internet.  I checked the UTD Library, since several of you said it was available online, and they say it is.  But I could not get it to appear.  If any of you find out how, please let the rest know.


Presentations:  For each presentation, make a little outline of your argument to help guide and record the discussion.  If you can get it to me before the class, I can make it available to everyone in printed form.  Or you can print it.  We can also circulate digital versions.   We can discuss this one the class starts.


Grading:  The grade will be based on two exams (30% each) and a paper (40%).  If this score is right on the line between two grades, the presentations will make a difference, but I don't want to worry about grading them exactly and I do not want you to worry about it either.  They are to help you learn.


Recordings: There is a folder in Box for the course that has recordings of the class sessions. The format is WMA or MP3.  This is a Windows format, but my Mac can play them--I think it is with iTunes.



Chapters and Topics

Add'l Reading and individual preparations

12 Jan 2014

1.  Introduction



Participant Observation



Empiricism, Skepticism, and Experimentalism



Empirical Formalism



The Argument


19 Jan

2. Empirical Starting Points



Group and organization






Social Information Systems: First Observations






Other Purposes; Subversive Agendas



Associations of ideas versus beliefs



Decision Models and Experimental Economics

North First Economic Revolution. Mayhew First Economic Revolution as Fiction.

North reply to Mayhew 1982 in the dropbox.


Culture and Structure






Cultural Ecology





26 Jan

3.  Skepticism, pragmatism, and Kant



Kant’s Empiricism

Prolegomenon to all Future Metaphysics

Kroeger on Kant's Anthropology



Philosophical Misrepresentations

Kroeger on Kant's Critique of Pure Reason


Fichte and Hegel



Richard Rorty



Rorty versus Dewey


2 Feb

4. New tools




You should already know what these are.


generative system models



agent and system models

First look at John Conway’s Game of Life website and model: http://www.bitstorm.org/gameoflife/

This is what I described in class as the butterfly that lives or dies.


Look at the Netlogo website and download the program: https://ccl.northwestern.edu/netlogo/           Anh


the evolving computational picture


9 Feb

5.  Social idea-systems



General Considerations



Formal Properties of Cultural Information Systems

Shannon and Weaver (1954) Mathematical Theory of Communication.  (Several editions. I have put two in the Box. The earlier one is the most important.)  Soojin


Implications of Multiplicity



Observation and Elicitation



Types of Social Idea-systems




Leaf: Experimental-Formal Analysis of Kinship.

Fischer et. al: What Kinship Terminologies Are.

Ogulsoltan. We will do an elicitation or two in class.

16 Feb

Kinship maps

Look up the KAES website on the Internet and download the program.

I have put the Mac version of kaes.app in the dropbox. The Kintermaps folder goes with it and has actual terminologies you can load.

I have also put the Microsoft files in the dropbox. They are download.zip and the folder KAES.   I think the folder is the same for both because they are in SML, which both operating systems can use.


Other kinship ideas

This means things like inheritance rules. We don't need more readings. We will compare cultural ideas from our separate backgrounds in class.


Kinship and Socialization



Kinship Ideas and Kinship Organizations



Managerial Control




Leaf Paper on Rationality in Box. Indigenous Algorithms, Organizations, and Rationality. Structure and Dynamics.  Keaton



Factional model using Gephi, in Box.


Translocal Organizations



Information Theory

Soojin, continuing from 9 Feb if we need to.

1 Mar

6.  technical Information systems



The question is how does technical information form systems,  and how systemic are they?

The two books on the nature of scientific theory that I was trying to remember in class on Feb 23 are:

Gallison, Peter (1997) Image and Logic. Chicago.

Shapin, S. 2011. Leviathan and the Air-pump. Princeton.

Gallison is about the cloud chamber. For class, read the article on Cloud Chamber in Wikipedia, and watch the videos.

Wikipedia also has a good, short, article criticising Leviathon and the Airpump, which sounds right to me.


observing The Systems

Also to read:Mathew Lauer and Shankar Aswani. 2009. Indigenous Ecological Knowledge as Situated Practices: Understanding Fisher’s Knowledge in the Western Solomon Islands. American Anthropologist 111:3:317-329. Copy in the dropbox.


information systems and social scale


8 Mar


Productive and Regulatory Purposes


15 Mar






22 Mar

Organizational charters

Leaf Paper on Ceremonies      Uju


Charters, Myth, and Movies

George Carlin on baseball and football:     Caleb


29 Mar

Peasant Farming

We will talk more about farming and making things. Look up my article in Mathematical Anthropology and Cultural Theory.  It comes with two spreadsheets that should work.


There are other papers here you may be interested in.


Wider Applications of the Farming Model






Regulatory Organizations



The Formal Problem of Occupational Choice



The Necessity of Collective Expression




The book describes Pajek software.  It is now obsolete because it has not been rewritten and updated for Mac and Linus operating systems. The new and much better standard is Gephi.  The url for Gephi is: https://gephi.org


The url for Pajek, if it is still working, is:





5 Apr

8.  Groups and institutions



Generating Underlying Groups






The Legal Profession





12 Apr

9.  Adaptation

We will look at the multiagent simulation of settlement formation in the Hay Hollow Valley, as described in the Artificial Anasazi Project website: https://www.openabm.org/model/2222/version/2/view

This uses netlogo.


forming individual rationality

Caleb—multi-agent thinking is relevant. How are people programmed?


Forming a Self

Mead, G. H.  The Social Self The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods, Vol. 10, No. 14 (Jul. 3,1913), on JSTOR


Selves, Bodies, and Incentives



Rationality and Optimization



Bounded Rationality

Simon, H.  Rationality in Psychology and Economics. The Journal of Business, Vol. 59, No. 4, Part 2: The Behavioral Foundations of Economic Theory (Oct., 1986), pp. S209-S224 IN JSTOR


The Ethnographic Alternative



Rationality and resource flows



Rationality and adaptation



The Hill-Climbing Algorithm

I'll try to have us make a netlogo model


Multi-Agent Models of Multiple Adaptive Strategies

Kuznets article in the dropbox.

Doran, Jim. Agent Based Modeling of Ecosystems for Sustainable Resource Management.


26 Apr

10.  Conclusion



Cultural Information Sources















theory and policy




Course & Instructor Policies

I do not provide for extra credit or make up work.  You are expected to complete all assignments on time.  Anything not handed in on time is failed, unless you have made an arrangement with me in advance.


No Field Trips


The following statements are standard for all syllabi and come from general UTD rules. They are required in response to accreditation criteria of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.



Standard UTD policies are procedures for all classes are on the U T Dallas website at: http://coursebook.utdallas.edu/syllabus-policies/.