Oxford University Press
May 14, 2012
Finding ways to understand the nature of social change and social order – from political movements to market meltdowns – is one of the enduring problems of social science. A Theory of Fields draws together far-ranging insights from social movement theory, organizational theory, and economic and political sociology to construct a general theory of social organization and strategic action.
In a work of remarkable synthesis, imagination, and analysis, Neil Fligstein and Doug McAdam propose that social change and social order can be understood through what they call strategic action fields. They posit that these fields are the general building blocks of political and economic life, civil society, and the state, and the fundamental form of order in our world today. Similar to Russian dolls, they are nested and connected in a broader environment almost countless proximate and overlapping fields. Fields are mutually dependent; change in one often triggers change in another. At the core of the theory is an account of how social actors fashion and maintain order in a given field. This social logical theory of action, what they call “social skill,” helps explain what individuals do in strategic action fields to gain cooperation or engage in competition.
To demonstrate the breadth of the theory, Fligstein and McAdam make its abstract principles concrete through extended case studies of the Civil Rights Movement and the rise and fall of the market for mortgages in the US since the 1960s. The book also provides a “how-to” guide to help others implement the approach and discuss methodological issues.
With a bold new approach, A Theory of Fields offers both a rigorous and practically applicable way of thinking through and making sense of social order and change – and how one emerges from the other – in modern, complex societies.
Neil Fligstein is the class of 1939 Chancellor’s Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. A renowned scholar of economic sociology, organizations, and political sociology, is the author or co-author of six books, including The Architecture of Markets and Euroclash: The EU, European Identity, and the Future of Europe.
Doug McAdam is Professor of Sociology at Stanford University. He is the author or co-author of thirteen books in the areas of political sociology, with an emphasis on social movements and revolutions. Among his best-known works are Our Political Process in the Development of Black Insurgency, 1930-1970, Freedom Summer, and (with Sid Tarrow and Charles Tilly) Dynamics of Contention.