I am a philosopher of social science with a strong interest in China and Southeast Asia. Paying attention to the logical and conceptual issues raised by the social sciences is key to better understanding the modern world. I think philosophers need to interact seriously and extensively with working social scientists and historians if they are going to be able to make a useful contribution.




  • Readers' List of Innovative Social Science Writing

    Readers' List Innovative Social Science Writing

    Image: graph of relationships among the social sciences, Eigenfactor.org To the readers of UnderstandingSociety, I am writing directly to you to ask your... Read more

    Posted on 19 July 2012 SOCIETY
  • Path Dependency and Contingency

    Historical outcomes are rarely determined by some set of antecedent conditions. Instead, the outcome that occurs is the result of an extended series of events... Read more

    Posted on 18 July 2012 SOCIETY
  • Regulatory Thrombosis

    Regulatory Thrombosis

    Charles Perrow is a leading researcher on the sociology of organizations, and he is a singular expert on accidents and system failures. Read more

    Posted on 18 July 2012 SOCIETY
  • Problems with Causal Mechanisms

    There are a couple of problems with the theory of causal mechanisms that will be difficult to address. Jim Mahoney raises a general concern in "Beyond... Read more

    Posted on 10 July 2012 SOCIETY
  • Polarization of American Politics

    Polarization American Politics

    If anything seems self-evident about recent American politics, it is the fact that our discourse and policy debates have become more polarized. Read more

    Posted on 07 July 2012 SOCIETY
  • Meso Powers and Causal Mechanisms

    Meso Powers Causal Mechanisms

    I've argued in earlier posts for several ideas: Meso-level social structures have causal powers. Meso-level social structures must have microfoundations.... Read more

    Posted on 03 July 2012 SOCIETY
  • The Social World as Morphogenesis

    Social World Morphogenesis

    Critical realism has progressed far since Roy Bhaskar's early writings on the subject in A Realist Theory of Science. One of the most important thinkers to... Read more

    Posted on 02 July 2012 SOCIETY
  • Thinking Poverty in the Inner City

    Thinking Poverty Inner City

    I find the question of how other people think to be one of the most interesting angles we can raise about the social world. By "thinking" I mean breaking down... Read more

    Posted on 01 July 2012 SOCIETY
  • Are There Meso-level Social Causes?

    Social structures and other social "things" are ontologically peculiar in some ways. Most especially, they are abstract, distributed, and non-material. Read more

    Posted on 28 June 2012 SOCIETY
  • Giddens on Agents and Structures

    Giddens Agents Structures

    Anthony Giddens is one of the theorists whose ideas are most often invoked when the idea of social-structural explanation is in play. Read more

    Posted on 28 June 2012 SOCIETY
  • Does "culture" Require Microfoundations?

    Does "culture" Require Microfoundations?

    I have consistently argued for a philosophy of social science that emphasizes the actor and the availability of microfoundations. I argue for an actor-centered... Read more

    Posted on 28 June 2012 SOCIETY
  • Organizational Failure as a Meso Cause

    Organizational Failure Meso Cause

    A recurring issue in the past few months here has been the validity of meso-level causal explanations of social phenomena. It is self-evident that we attribute... Read more

    Posted on 28 June 2012 SOCIETY
  • Scaling up


    City Year is a pretty unusual and impressive social-entrepreneurial organization (link). Founded in 1988 as a platform for providing young Americans an... Read more

    Posted on 27 June 2012 SOCIETY
  • Michigan's Recovery?

    Michigan's Recovery?

    The Mackinac Policy Conference brings forward something new this year -- optimism. The state of Michigan has been hammered in the past eight years by the... Read more

    Posted on 27 June 2012 SOCIETY
  • Sociologists on Race

    Sociologists Race

    It is apparent that society in the United States is racialized in deep ways that greatly disadvantage the African-American population in the country, from healt... Read more

    Posted on 27 June 2012 SOCIETY
  • Where is Poverty in the National Agenda?

    Where Poverty National Agenda?

    Our elected officials are charged to do their best to create legislation and policies that work best to secure the important life interests of all citizens.... Read more

    Posted on 27 June 2012 SOCIETY
  • How Much Inequality?

    Much Inequality?

    How much inequality is too much? Answers range from Gracchus Babeuf (all inequalities are unjust) to Ayn Rand (there is no moral limit on the extent of... Read more

    Posted on 27 June 2012 SOCIETY
  • How Things Work

    Things Work

    Social scientists have a set of abstract goals in approaching their work. They want to formulate specific research questions about limited aspects of the... Read more

    Posted on 27 June 2012 SOCIETY
  • Priorities for Tax Dollars

    There is a very strong impulse in many state legislatures to cut taxes, no matter what the cost is to the state's ability to provide essential services for its... Read more

    Posted on 27 June 2012 SOCIETY
  • Ostrom's Central Idea

    Ostrom's Central Idea

    Elinor Ostrom was a very important contributor to the theory of public rationality and the institutions that underlie cooperation, and she was most deserving... Read more

    Posted on 14 June 2012 SOCIETY