sociological questions

[from Kent McClelland (Wed 930331)]

Re: Bruce Nevin (Wed 930331 08:37:59)

To the point here, the study of socially standardized reference
perceptions is not subject to the same experimental techniques as
the study of behavioral outputs as byproducts of experimentally
determined reference perceptions. The former has a "meta-"
relation to the latter. Other sorts of questions must be
addressed, questions about how people establish and change
reference perceptions. . .

I think Bruce has put his finger on something here which I find useful as a
sociologist in trying to understand the implications of PCT for my own field.
Once you accept that behavior is the result of individuals' attempts to
control their perceptions, the questions of greatest interest for
sociologists seem to me to come down to the one that Bruce suggests (how
different individuals develop highly similar control systems for perceiving
the social environment, including language), as well as questions of the
_distribution_ of such control systems across populations, and also the
distribution of settings of control systems. (We may both have control
systems for a given CEV in our shared environment, but if you and I are
holding different reference values for our control systems, conflict is
likely to ensue, as Bill Powers has pointed out many times). These
sociological "meta-" questions can prompt further inquiries, e.g., how
different empirical distributions of people actively trying to control
similar perceptual variables in an environment might lead to predictable
sequences of interaction.

For example, I've been attempting a PCT account of social power for several
years, and my latest formulation goes like this: social power can be defined
as occurring when two or more people share the "same" control systems and are
actively controlling for the "same" reference values of those systems in a
given environment. I would describe this phenomenon as "alignment" of
control systems, and by my definition social power is synonymous with
alignment. I put 'same' in quotes, because I see as an open question just
how similar two control systems (and their settings) need to be before they
can be regarded, for practical purposes, as aligned.

Some implications of this PCT definition of power:

     power is proportional to the number of people involved in an alignment;

     social power is not the property of any single individual, and our
attributing of power to an individual is simply a way of indicating that the
individual is acting as the spokesperson for an alignment;

     power comes and goes as individuals change their allegiance to various

I have a number of other implications sketched out for a paper which I hope
to have ready for the CSG meeting this summer. If things go well, I'll also
attempt to produce some spreadsheet models or an experimental design for
exploring the behavior of some simplified distributions of control system
settings and alignments.

I hope this speaks to Ken Hacker's question on the net several days ago about
how social scientists might try to apply PCT to their concerns. It might
also have some relevance to the recent controversy between Bill Powers and
Greg Williams on whether statistical methods will be necessary in the
application of PCT to social scientific questions. I wouldn't want to make
any categorical assertions, but I wouldn't be surprised if statistical tools
are helpful in investigating the empirical distributions of control systems
that I'm talking about. . .
Best to all,


Kent McClelland Office: 515-269-3134
Assoc. Prof. of Sociology Home: 515-236-7002
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