Campus Authors: R. Keith Sawyer

*Social Emergence: Societies As Complex Systems*

Ph.D., associate professor of education in Arts & Sciences

Cambridge University Press (October 2005)

Can we understand important social issues by studying individual personalities and decisions? Or are societies somehow more than the people in them? Sociologists have long believed that the study of individual decisions and behaviors cannot fully explain the complex modern phenomena which emerge when people interact in organizations, institutions, and societies.

In contrast, most psychologists and economists tend to treat social phenomena as if they were reducible to the actions of individuals, whose independent choices can simply be added together to explain complex social processes.

Social Emergence takes a new approach to these longstanding questions. Sawyer argues that societies are complex dynamical systems, and that the best way to resolve these debates is by developing the concept of emergence, focusing on multiple levels of analysis — individuals, interactions, and groups — and a dynamic focus on how social group phenomena emerge from communication processes among individual members. This book makes a unique contribution not only to complex systems research but also to social theory.

“I wrote this book to contribute to a debate about the relationship between individuals and social groups,” Sawyer said. “I’ve been studying improvisational theater groups for over 10 years, and I’ve always been fascinated with how the individual creativity of all of the actors combines together to create a performance that’s greater than the sum of the parts. That’s what I call ‘social emergence’ — when something emerges from the group that no one planned ahead of time and that no one could have predicted.”

Sawyer is the author or editor of six previous books, including Group Creativity and Improvised Dialogues.

— From the book jacket