Social and Political Complexity
Societies are complex and difficult to describe. Increasing social differentiation has led to what Habermas has called “die neue Unübersichtlichkeit” (Habermas 1985). This uncertainty poses severe problems for social science analysis. Often fundamentalist beliefs are used to construct explanations and cause for action. As Karl Mannheim has already pointed out, political ideologies offer simplified solutions for complex problems.
The excessive use of models in economics and some of the other social sciences may be seen as a desperate act to reduce complexity of a real world that is becoming more and more difficult to understand, to analyze and to describe. Instead of observing and analyzing real world situations, researchers construct virtual worlds, which then become the playing field of scientific debates and conclusions.
The great financial crisis of 2008 developed, according to expert opinion, because nobody could any longer understand the extremely complex world of derivates and other financial instruments. The virtual world of finance, often inadequately described as a “bubble”, became even more complex than the real world of goods and commodities before it took revenge on its creators when the bubble burst.
The Dilemma of Macro Theories
Social scientists have attempted to deal with complex processes in various ways since Karl Marx explained history as a process of class struggles and Max Weber postulated that the rise of rational action is the core process in the emergence of modern economy and society.
Modernization theory assumes that the modernization of states and societies follows a more or less predetermined path. It assumes that all societies, undergoing a process of modernization, will follow a unilineal development path towards the model of a modern industrial society (usually the USA). Modernization theory provides up to now the guiding principles of most development strategies. Doubts have, however, arisen, following the failure of many development programs, the failure of the US to maintain its position as the world`s only superpower and the current financial crisis of the capitalist world banking system.
Modernization theory is based on the probably false assumption that all societies follow the same or a similar path of developing modern institutions, political and economic systems, namely liberal capitalism, American style democratic institutions and a Western type of civil society. It is not able to adequately explain conflicts and crisis in the development of societies. On the other hand class theory is not able to explain short-term social trends in most developing countries. Class Structure and hidden class conflict may be permanent features of all societies, but these are difficult to detect. Open class conflict becomes visible only in certain periods of history, like during the French or Russian revolutions. Class analysis is therefore useful only for very long-term analysis or on rare occasions for open, ongoing class conflict. To explain “ordinary” social processes and conflict situations we need a medium range theory.
Strategic group theory is located between modernization theory and class theory. It assists in understanding current social change and medium range developments especially in fast developing countries. It assumes that human actions are governed by an interest in maximizing material and immaterial gains and profits. There are, of cause, other motives for social action, like love and hate, envy and admiration, but these are seen as secondary. In this sense strategic group theory is a theory of rational choice.
Hans-Dieter Evers and Solvay Gerke
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