May 12, 2003

· Sociology

Here’s a great post by Henry Farrell that takes a classic paper in sociology—Padgett & Ansell’s Robust Action and the Rise of the Medici“—and shows how it informs the goings on in Survivor. He contrasts the sociological with the game-theoretic approach to good effect. As Eric Leifer once observed (I think in his paper “Interaction Preludes to Role Setting”) game theory can be thought of as the analysis of “games that do not have to be played.” In real games—in social interactions where people are scheming against each other and the outcome is not at all clear *a priori*—ambiguity, ambage and open-endedness are vitally important to successful outcomes. Leifer’s dissertation research was on chess players, and built on the insight that the best players were not better than their opponents at seeing further down the rapidly branching tree of possibilities. Rather, they excelled at keeping their own options open while simultaneously putting the squeeze on the viable choices of the other guy.

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I am Associate Professor of Sociology at Duke University. I’m affiliated with the Kenan Institute for Ethics, the Markets and Management Studies program, and the Duke Network Analysis Center.



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