a physicist, psychologist, mathematician, economist, orgtheorist…walk into a bar…and talk about collective behavior

A few years ago I was spending quite a bit of time looking at how scholars across disciplines (from the natural sciences to different social sciences) deal with matters of collective behavior, coordination and social aggregation.  Mathematicians and physicists study various issues related to the matter (e.g., signals, aggregation in networks), as do biologists (e.g., collective animal behavior), political scientists (e.g., voting), economists (e.g., preference aggregation), psychologists (social interaction) and sociologists (social influence).  Naturally there are significant differences (e.g., across social contexts and species), but I presumed that much can be (and already has been) learned across disciplines.

I pitched the idea of putting together an interdisciplinary special issue on collective behavior and social aggregation and the journal Managerial and Decision Economics was willing to take the risk (big-time thanks to the editor Paul Rubin!).  After a couple years of work, the special issue will finally be published this year— it is titled “the emergent nature of organization, markets and wisdom of crowds.”

The set of scholars contributing include folks from political science (Scott Page), physics (Claudio Castellano), mathematics (David Sumpter), sociology (Robb Willer, Siegwart Lindenberg), strategy (Nicolai Foss), economics (Bruno Frey, Bart Wilson, Peter Leeson), psychology (Steve Kozlowski), etc.

For anyone interested, the list of all the paper titles and contributors can also be found below the fold.  The final papers will be available on MDE’s early view over the next couple weeks.  One of the special issue papers is already there: Pete Leeson, of pirate political economy fame, and Chris Coyne’s paper on “Wisdom, Alterability and Social Rules.”

I’m still quite enamored by the possibilities of more systematically looking at comparative similarities and differences across disciplines (issues of collectives, behavior and aggregation – as well as comparative methodological and epistemological matters), so if anyone is interested in these issues, please send me a note.  I’m entertaining the idea of putting together a conference in the future.


2012 Special Issue of

Managerial and Decision Economics

Contributors from physics, economics, organization theory,
psychology, sociology, political science and biology

The purpose of this special issue is to bring together an interdisciplinary set of scholars to address questions related to collective behavior, social aggregation and emergence.

Introduction and Agenda

The nature of capabilities, markets and wisdom of crowds: a comparative agenda.
Felin, T. (Organization Theory, BYU)

Special Issue Papers

Social influence and the dynamics of opinions: the approach of statistical physics.
Castellano, C. (Physics, University of Rome)

Incentives, information and emergent collective accuracy.
Hong, L., Page, S. (Political Science, University of Michigan), Riolo, M.

Six predictions about the decision-making of animal and human groups.
Sumpter, D.J.T. (Mathematics, Uppsala University), Zabzina, N., Nicolis, S.C.

Wisdom, alterability, and social rules.
Leeson, P.T., and Coyne, C.J. (Economics, George Mason University)

The dynamics of emergence: cognition and cohesion in work teams.
Kozlowski, S. (Psychology, Michigan State University), Chao, G.T.

Teams, team motivation, and the theory of the firm.
Foss, N. (Organizational Economics, CBS), Lindenberg, S. (Cognitive Sociology, Groningen)

A theory of nascent organizing: on the emergence of collective beliefs and strategy.
Felin, T. (Organization Theory, BYU), Knudsen, T. (Organization Theory, SDU)

The primacy of entrepreneurs in exploiting long-distance exchange.
Kimbrough, E., Wilson, B. (Economics, Chapman University)

Community enterprises – aliens under attack.
Frey, B.S. (Economics, University of Zurich), Luthi, R., Osterloh, M.

How do the powerful attain status? The roots of legitimate power inequalities.
Willer, R. (Sociology, UC Berkeley), Youngreen, R., Troyer, L., and Lovaglia, M.

Written by teppo

May 24, 2012 at 6:32 pm

Posted in uncategorized

7 Responses

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  1. Congratulations! Looks like a great issue. I look forward to reading it.



    May 24, 2012 at 6:59 pm

  2. This looks fantastic. You may also be interested in Henry Farrell’s and Cosma Shalizi’s “Cognitive Democracy” which was posted in the last few days.



    May 24, 2012 at 8:00 pm

  3. Really interesting! This is me trying to apply Ostrom to banking regulation.

    Also interesting is the social psychologist Turner on power, which may be usefully applied to hierarchy and coordination problems.$FILE/Turner%20on%20power.pdf


    Aidan walsh

    May 24, 2012 at 8:08 pm

  4. Trey: thanks(!), hadn’t seen that piece – related to some of the issues, so I plan on reading it.

    Aidan: thanks for the links. Robb Willer (et al)’s paper (and three experiments) in the special issue links with some of the power issues raised in the Turner paper.



    May 24, 2012 at 8:10 pm

  5. Interesting read. I’ve always myself been fascinated by this inter-disciplinary stuff as well (I started a natural scientist, moved to studying classical singing, then became professional sociologist…).
    Two observations:
    1. knowledge ecology seems an important concept here (I write about it a bit on my blog – see tags);
    2. it is said that women are more ‘natural’ (?) sharers than men. I absolutely don’t want to start a gender wars now – am fully aware of stereotypes and much else – but it does seem there’s scope for looking at gender difference or convergence in this topic; as there would be for examining cultural understandings in different places.
    Would be glad to be kept informed of developments.


    Hilary Burrage

    May 25, 2012 at 10:23 am

  6. Very cool! I am definitely interested in these topics and I will for certain check out your special issue of Managerial and Decision Economics. I have been researching how collective behavior occurs amongst personal style bloggers (MA thesis, also downloadable on my blog), and how flash mobs coalesce (probable dissertation topic, and have co-authored a research report on same). Thanks for this post and keep me in mind for a future conference. I’m in Sociology at KU.



    May 31, 2012 at 1:21 am

  7. […] a related update and advert: I previously mentioned this special issue that I am involved with on the “emergent nature of organization, markets and wisdom of […]


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