Concepts and Categories
Foundations for Sociological and Cultural Analysis
by Michael T. Hannan
Pub Date 30 Jul 2019
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by Michael T. Hannan, Gaël Le Mens, Greta Hsu, Balázs Kovács, Giacomo Negro, László Pólos, Elizabeth Pontikes, and Amanda J. Sharkey.
How categorization shapes our understanding of social life
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.
Michael T. Hannan is the StrataCom Professor of Management emeritus and professor emeritus of sociology at Stanford University and professor of organization theory at Durham University Business School.
Gaël Le Mens is professor of behavioral science in the Department of Economics and Business at Pompeu Fabra University.
Greta Hsu is professor of management at the University of California, Davis, Graduate School of Management.
Balázs Kovács is assistant professor of organizational behavior at the Yale University School of Management.
Giacomo Negro is professor of organization and management at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School.
László Pólos is professor of organizational theory at Durham University Business School.
Elizabeth Pontikes is associate professor of organizations and strategy at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
Amanda J. Sharkey is associate professor of organizations and strategy at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
"This formal foundation of categorization processes represents a massive step forward in our theoretical understanding of categories, their evolution, and how they influence 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