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Individual Social Action and Macro Level Dynamics: A Formal Theoretical Model

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When large numbers of individuals interact and influence each other's choices of action, the relationship between a single individual's action and the aggregate outcome on the macro-level is far from straight forward and is therefore difficult to predict. In this paper, a theoretical model is developed that can be used to analyze how the evolution of different macro-phenomena depends upon social actions at the micro level. The model, which takes as its point of departure a set of analytical diagrams developed by T.C. Schelling (1978), is precise yet applicable to the analysis of a range of different social situations. The wide applicability of the model is demonstrated by examining two seemingly disparate social processes. One concerns the growth of a social movement and the other the prevalence of condom use in the population. Underlying both these processes is a system of interaction in which purposeful actors react to an environment that consists largely of other actors reacting in a like manner. The focus of the analysis is on the complex aggregate outcomes that these systems of interaction generate.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2000-09-01

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