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Foundations of Social Theory

Foundations of Social Theory

James Coleman

ISBN 9780674312265

Publication date: 08/19/1998

Combining principles of individual rational choice with a sociological conception of collective action, James Coleman recasts social theory in a bold new way. The result is a landmark in sociological theory, capable of describing both stability and change in social systems.

This book provides for the first time a sound theoretical foundation for linking the behavior of individuals to organizational behavior and then to society as a whole. The power of the theory is especially apparent when Coleman analyzes corporate actors, such as large corporations and trade unions. He examines the creation of these institutions, collective decision making, and the processes through which authority is revoked in revolts and revolutions.

Coleman discusses the problems of holding institutions responsible for their actions as well as their incompatibility with the family. He also provides a simple mathematical analysis corresponding to and carrying further the verbal formulations of the theory. Finally, he generates research techniques that will permit quantitative testing of the theory.

From a simple, unified conceptual structure Coleman derives, through elegant chains of reasoning, an encompassing theory of society. It promises to be the most important contribution to social theory since the publication of Talcott Parsons' Structure of Social Action in 1936.


  • A masterwork. Epic in scope, it is clear, engaging, and forcefully argued. Traditional sociologists will be unable to ignore its bold new agenda for their discipline. And the book will have a lasting impact on economics, political science, psychology, and other disciplines concerned with human behavior...[It] is indeed a fitting capstone to the career of one of this century's most distinguished and creative sociologists.

    —Robert H. Frank, Journal of Economic Literature

Book Details

  • 1014 pages
  • 6-3/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Belknap Press