voice and social control: comparative organization

“Voice is a means of social control: that is to say, the voice is a means of influencing the behavior of individuals so as to bring them into cooperation, one with another.”

That’s from a 1908 American Journal of Sociology article by biologist and ethologist Wallace Craig –  “The Voices of Pigeons Regarded as a Means of Social Control.”  Yes, the article indeed is about pigeons. I don’t know whether AJS still publishes articles by ethologists.  Probably not.

I think ethology can offer some interesting meta-theoretical, comparative and methological insights for studying activity, behavior and social interaction across and within various contexts (from various types of animals to humans).  Sure, one-to-one borrowing across species can be lame (directly applying insights from biology can lead to sloppy reasoning), and is all too frequent.  Of course humans are not like pigeons – or ants or bees – though some abstract similarities might exist and specifying the underlying nature of an organism makes for an intriguing, comparative exercise.

More importantly, the nature of the thing itself, the thing that is being studied, needs to be vetted (Craig, Lorenz etc were brilliant at this), rather than resorting to studying the thing’s environment.  That’s a personal pet peeve of mine.  (Is that vague enough?  Good.)

If any of you are interested in ethology, its origins, the emergence of a field, etc — I would highly, highly recommend Richard Burkhardt Jr’s brilliant book Patterns of Behavior: Konrad Lorenz, Niko Tinbergen, and the Founding of Ethology, University of Chicago Press.  It is one of the best books I have read during the last three years (was just re-skimming it).

Written by teppo

February 28, 2011 at 8:26 pm

3 Responses

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  1. I recall reading an old Org Theory book by Jeff Pfeffer where he described Berkeley’s response to picketing women on campus — they created a Women’s Studies department. Once women had a voice and were competing for funding like everyone else, the picketing stopped. Social control? Perhaps…

    I’ve heard them referred to as chicks but not pigeons…



    February 28, 2011 at 8:44 pm

  2. These folks take the opposite approach:

    “The main thesis of this paper is that the natural histories of animal interactions can be fruitfully studied as informal institutions from the perspective of institutional theory.”

    Click to access BiologicalInstitutionsManuscript1.pdf



    March 1, 2011 at 7:44 am

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