The Floating University

Glossary

  • Sociology: the study of human behavior, human experience, and social networks
     
  • Supra-individual factors: environmental and cultural factors that partially determine your actions; examples: where you live, where you are situated in face-to-face networks, what formal institutions (governments, hospitals) are near you, inequality, culture, religion
     
  • Structure: social constraints and opportunities 
     
  • Agency: individual choices and actions
     
  • Collective phenomena: special attributes of groups that are not present in the constituent individuals
     
  • Emile Durkheim (1858-1917): French sociologist; in 1897 studied suicide rates in different religious groups across different periods in France and discovered that  “The individual is dominated by a moral reality greater than himself, namely, collective reality,” i.e. groups have properties of their own that transcend the individuals
     
  • Georg Simmel (1858-1918): German sociologist; founded the study of social networks in the 1890s
     
  • Social networks: complex face-to-face networks within which we live our lives (not online social networks like Facebook); we are connected to our friends and acquaintances, and they in turn are connected to others; the difference between networks and groups is that networks have specific personal ties
     
  • Artificial social networks: cause new properties to emerge from individuals, usually to increase efficiency/efficacy; example: Bucket Brigade
     
  • Bucket Brigade: an artificial network in which people line up to move a bucket, person by person, from one end of the line to the other, for example to put out a fire or move debris
     
  • Natural social networks: networks that emerge as the result of organic human interactions; example: the obesity epidemic
     
  • Eric Hoffer (1902-1983):  American social writer and philosopher; said “When people are free to do as they please they usually imitate each other,” i.e. our actions and choices are heavily influenced by input from our social networks
     
  • Slime mold: a primitive fungus that eats wood; when individual molds connect they form a super organism with unexpected properties, such as the ability to solve mazes
     
  • Social capital: a change in interpersonal relations that makes the group more productive and capable of doing things it previously couldn’t; generally a public good, a resource we can all use
     
  • Capital: any productive resource; to create capital you must invest skill and effort
     
  • Physical capital: any non-human asset used in production; example: land - you have a forest, you invest skill and effort to clear it, make a farm, and thus have a productive source of wealth
     
  • Human capital: if you endow someone with skills and knowledge they change to become more productive; example: take a disinterested grad student, put in skill and effort to educate him, and then he will be able to do things he couldn’t do before
     
  • Gary Becker (b. 1930): American economist, won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1992, focused on humans as a form of capital in the 1960s
     
  • Public good: there is no exclusivity in consumption of a public good; example: cake vs lighthouse – if you eat the cake then no one else can have it, whereas many people in boats can use the same light coming from a lighthouse regardless if someone else is also using it; social capital is a public good
     
  • Methodological individualism: individual transactions give rise to larger phenomena; example: markets, elections, and riots are the byproduct of individuals’ decisions to buy/sell, vote, or express anger
     
  • Collective identities: when an individual’s membership in a group impacts their own identity in some way; collective identities can cause people within the group to act in concert
     
  • Karl Marx (1818–1883): German philosopher, sociologist, economist, historian, journalist; believed that groups had collective consciousnesses inaccessible by constituent individuals
     
  • Methodological holism: groups have properties not discernible in constituent members