Concepts and Categories

Foundations for Sociological and Cultural Analysis

Michael T. Hannan, Gaël Le Mens, Greta Hsu, Balázs Kovács, Giacomo Negro, László Pólos, Elizabeth Pontikes, and Amanda J. Sharkey

Columbia University Press

Concepts and Categories

Pub Date: August 2019

ISBN: 9780231192729

328 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $35.00£27.00

Pub Date: August 2019

ISBN: 9780231549936

328 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $34.99£27.00

Concepts and Categories

Foundations for Sociological and Cultural Analysis

Michael T. Hannan, Gaël Le Mens, Greta Hsu, Balázs Kovács, Giacomo Negro, László Pólos, Elizabeth Pontikes, and Amanda J. Sharkey

Columbia University Press

Why do people like books, music, or movies that adhere consistently to genre conventions? Why is it hard for politicians to take positions that cross ideological boundaries? Why do we have dramatically different expectations of companies that are categorized as social media platforms as opposed to news media sites? The answers to these questions require an understanding of how people use basic concepts in their everyday lives to give meaning to objects, other people, and social situations and actions.

In this book, a team of sociologists presents a groundbreaking model of concepts and categorization that can guide sociological and cultural analysis of a wide variety of social situations. Drawing on research in various fields, including cognitive science, computational linguistics, and psychology, the book develops an innovative view of concepts. It argues that concepts have meanings that are probabilistic rather than sharp, occupying fuzzy, overlapping positions in a “conceptual space.” Measurements of distances in this space reveal our mental representations of categories. Using this model, important yet commonplace phenomena such as our routine buying decisions can be quantified in terms of the cognitive distance between concepts. Concepts and Categories provides an essential set of formal theoretical tools and illustrates their application using an eclectic set of methodologies, from micro-level controlled experiments to macro-level language processing. It illuminates how explicit attention to concepts and categories can give us a new understanding of everyday situations and interactions.
Social classification—the establishment of categories and the sorting of entities into those categories—is the critical juncture at which cognition and social organization intersect. As such, it is a central topic that cuts across many fields of sociology and other social sciences. This volume integrates work from the most productive and promising program of theory and research on social classification into a coherent statement that will inform sociological thinking for years to come. Paul DiMaggio, New York University
This formal foundation of categorization processes represents a massive step forward in our theoretical understanding of categories, their evolution, and their influence on decisions. The authors do an excellent job of motivating these cognitive foundations in terms of their relevance to sociological questions of interest. Olav Sorenson, Frederick Frank ’54 and Mary C. Tanner Professor of Management, Yale School of Management
Concepts and Categories is at once foundational and generative—the kind of book in which you will fill the margins with new learnings and insights. I highly recommend it both to newcomers to the sociology of markets as well as to established scholars looking for their next novel idea. Damon Phillips, Lambert Family Professor of Social Enterprise, Columbia Business School
Hannan and collaborators have produced a masterful interdisciplinary intervention, the first to bridge research on the nature of concepts in cognitive psychology and sociological work on organizational and market categories. The book provides solid theoretical foundations tightly linked to formal measurement tools that should prove foundational to future advancements in the field. Omar Lizardo, LeRoy Neiman Term Chair Professor of Sociology, University of California, Los Angeles
Preface
Acknowledgments
1. Concepts in Sociological Analysis
I. Concepts and Spaces
2. Preliminaries
3. Semantic Space
4. Concepts as Probability Densities in Semantic Space
5. Conceptual Spaces: Domains and Cohorts
6. Expanding Spaces to Compare Concepts
7. Informativeness and Distinctiveness
II. Applying Concepts
8. Categories and Categorization
9. Free Categorization
10. Concepts, Perception, and Inference
III. Bridges to Sociological Application
11. Conceptual Ambiguity and Contrast
12. Valuation
IV. Concepts in Social Interaction
13. The Group Level: Conceptual and Extensional Agreement
14. Social Inference and Taken-for-Grantedness
15. Broadening the Scope of Application
V. Appendixes
Appendix A: Glossary of Technical Terms
Appendix B: Some Elemental First-Order Logic
Appendix C: Proofs
Notes
Bibliography
Index

About the Author

Michael T. Hannan is The StrataCom Professor of Management in the Graduate School of Business and Professor of Sociology, Emeritus in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Stanford University and Professor of Organisation Theory at the Durham University Business School. He is the co-author of Logics of Organization Theory: Audiences, Codes, and Ecologies (2007), The Demography of Corporations and Industries (2000), and Dynamics of Organizational Populations: Density, Legitimation and Competition (1992).