Copyright © 2001 Transaction Publisher, Inc


Hans L Zetterberg (Reproduced from manuscript version of Monday, July 30, 2001):

Introduction to the 2001 Transaction Publishers Issue of
“Social Theory and Social Practice”

Four methods and their common categories

The scholarly enterprise rests on four methods. First and foremost is the scientific method, the accepted rules for the development and formalization of academic knowledge. Second, there is publishing and librarianship, i.e. methods of the orderly distribution and storage of this knowledge in scholarly journals, books, and databases. Third, there is pedagogy, methods to teach this knowledge in a series of lessons, explorations, audiovisual aids, exercises, and tests. Here belongs also the task to popularize science for the general public. Fourth, there is practice, methods to apply the academic knowledge to concrete problems.

This book deals with the latter. It attempts to specify a methodology for the use of social science in coping with problems in a society. This is a neglected area of serious investigation and teaching. Many social scientists living in democracies naively believe that their science is put to work by popularizing its contents. Then the public might be aroused so that politicians take notice and begin to use the knowledge. The present book deals with something more akin to the practice in medicine and engineering: straightforward applications of academic knowledge thorough scholarly consultations. It was first published in 1962 and sums up experiences from a time when I, a young Assistant and Associate Professor at Columbia University, took my first steps as a sociological consultant in New York City.

Inspired by Aristotle who superbly tried all four methods of the scholarly enterprise, we can claim that success comes when all four methods have one aspect in common, a kategoriai. A basic categorical scheme allows a scientist to ask the most profound questions, a librarian to provide the most efficient organization of research findings, a teacher to cover an entire field without the bias of omission, and a practitioner to be relevant and stop wandering all over the place in search of a solution.

The categories used in this book and sketched on pages 68-69 and 71 in the chapter on “The Vocabulary of Sociology”[1] are the following:







































































Art public














of morals






A categorical scheme like this one encourages social scientists to formulate weighty problems. Consider institutional realms and their values (in bold type in the table). If you have a list of them in front of your eyes you can ask some very serious research questions, for example, Machiavelli’s classic research and consulting problem: When must politics ignore the dictates of religion to be successful? Or, Max Weber’s classic query: Does the Protestant ethic help or hinder the development of rational capitalism? Machiavelli, to be sure, worked without any formal categories. But Weber developed his Wertsphären and Lebensordnungen – of which the categorical scheme in this book is an adapted part – parallel to his empirical work.

A categorical scheme also guides the overseer of databases and libraries in the social sciences to the layout of a basic catalogue. The immense multiplication of research findings and interpretations make such a systematic catalogue essential. It is no longer sufficient in science to order knowledge alphabetically as in an old-fashioned encyclopedia.

A categorical scheme tells a teacher of social science what must be included in a course of learning. In looking at our scheme he or she sees immediately that religion and art and ethics must never be overlooked in teaching the anatomy of a society. The scheme reveals mercilessly the foolishness in saying, “all is politics” or “everything is economy.”

The categorical scheme tells practitioners of social science where in society a problem is located so that they do not use the laws of economics to solve, say, a problem of ethical content. We cannot use the laws of economics to calculate a welfare measure to the totally senile or to the hopelessly handicapped. We support them out of ethical rather than economic considerations. Nor shall we try to use ethics to solve hitches in the workings of the price system. In a market economy there is no “just” or “righteous” price, only prices that customers are willing to pay.

Rushing to resolutions outside the realm with a problem

Fallacies made by searching all remedies for a societal problem outside its societal realm are common. The great Depression of the 1930s provides a telling example.

In the United States of the 1930s there was no lack of nourishments in the soil, no lack of machines in the factories, no lack of agricultural labor, factory workers, or engineers. But starvation and poverty and general misery spread because important parts of the economic system had collapsed. “Mr. Sociology“ of that time, Robert S. Lynd, the professor who was known inside and outside the universities for his studies of Middletown, looked for a solution. In a book called Knowledge for What?[2] Lynd wrote: “For it is the intractability of the human factor, and not our technologies, that has spoiled the American dream; and the social sciences deal with that factor“ (p 4). The social sciences had not done their job. They had simply accepted the assumptions about society prevalent in American capitalism. “This over-ready acceptance of the main assumptions of the going system has been a source of confusion and embarrassment to the social sciences as that system has become highly unmanageable since the World War, and particularly since 1929“ (p 3).

Lynd’s advice was to abandon the economic theory of the invisible hand and develop a theory of social and political planning. “There is no way in which our culture can grow in continued servicability to its people without a large and pervasive extension of planning and control to many areas now left to casual individual initiative“ (s 209).

Many agreed, and a new research tradition emerged at Columbia, Lynd’s university. We got celebrated dissertations on Roosevelt’s great piece of social engineering, the Tennessee Valley Authority[3], on agrarian socialism in Canada[4], and on the European Coal and Steel Community[5].

Nowadays we know that it is questionable whether large-scale central economic planning can cure economic depressions in advanced economies. There is a fairly extensive research literature on the Depression of the 1930s[6]. Roughly speaking, it was not a lack of economic planning, but a lack of money that pushed the depression forward. The expansion of economic activity had long since outstripped the expansion in the mining of gold. The gold standard strangled economic activity by limiting the money supply. This was accompanied by political decisions on protectionism and less government spending, which further weakened business activity.

You should not go to the realm of politics to find the root cause of the Depression and rush to recommend the use political planning as the remedy. The root cause was economic, the shrinking money supply. Politicians, to be sure, made the matter worse by retrenching state budgets and raising trade barriers. Reversals of those policies became part of the remedy. But the keys to the solution were economic: reducing or abandoning the gold standard for currencies and increasing credit limits and lending by the banks.

Core elements and embedded elements

In this book we use as our main illustration the difficulty of an art museum to gain visitors. In tackling this problem as sociological consultants we could learn some but not everything we needed to know from how a store on Main Street gets customers. The customer can buy and take home the wares of the store, but the museum visitor cannot walk away with the museum objects. We could learn some but not everything we needed from how a political party gets votes. The visitor to the voting booth participates directly in a process of changing or maintaining society while the visitor to a museum does not. Our problem was mainly located in the realm of art, not in the realms of economy or polity. Fine arts were the core element of the museum we helped. But imbedded in the museum were also economic, political, educational, and research elements.

All organizations, networks, and media in a realm of societal life include smaller elements from other realms. This is true for any firm in the economy, any research institute, any church in the religious sphere, any agency of government, any theater or museum in the realm of art. They cannot function well without these “alien” essentials. Nothing in the modern world seems to work very well without a share of money earned directly in the market place or coming indirectly from the market via taxes or philanthropy. Nor does any concrete part of society work very well without some rules from the government, and without some knowledge with a scientific base. Furthermore, to work satisfactorily everything in society is helped also by some artistic expressions and some meanings that might be called religious. No realm of society is an isolated island; all give and take something to one another.

The idea is perhaps best expressed as organic collaboration. It stands for divisions of labor in which relatively autonomous societal realms grow in different directions, but they are nevertheless interdependent, and they embed part of one another to facilitate their core activities[7].

Organic collaboration does not change the fact that a firm on High Street, a central government agency, a research institute, a church, or a museum is classified as belonging to the realm that dominates its activity. A university belongs to the realm of knowledge also when it is a state university. A budget officer in the capital who treats the university as another state agency cannot alter the fact that it is an institution of learning and research.  In some instances, however, an institution may rightly be classified into more than one realm. For example, a university press uses scholarly criteria to select its titles and business criteria to sell them.

Scholarly consultations normally bridge realms. George Stiegler reminds us in his essay “The Economist as Preacher“[8] that the practice of giving economic advice, while based on science, is governed by demand. The economist gives pieces of advice that buyers can use and are willing to purchase. Like all other suppliers of services the economists are tempted to give only advice that keep them in the market of advisors. They take a step outside the realm of science if they fall for the temptation to give only advice that pleases the sponsors. It takes integrity – preferably backed by academic tenure or a private fortune – to stay within academically grounded knowledge, come hell or high water from clients or from the media and public opinion.

A consultant should not be surprised or hurt when a recommended measure, however correct, is turned down. The client, however amateurish, is the actual decision-maker, responsible to his or her stakeholders, for real, not theoretical, consequences of a measure. At risk in an implementation process is the decision-maker’s future, not the consultant’s.


Practical applications of social science often deal with embedding problems. A consultant may be enlisted to upgrade the system of economic accounting or service statistics in a local government agency, a hospital, or a cultural institution. Or, the assignment might be to develop key measures, to be regularly compiled and published, to tell a continuous story of the performance of the organization. In the realm of the economy we have a long array of such measures: cash flow, profit, investment volume, production volume, productivity, failure rates, customer satisfaction, repurchase rates, et cetera. They make the economic performance of the firm visible.  Outside the economy the key measures are scarcer and present a challenge to both the consultancy and the leadership. In the development of new measures all parties should be aware that the behavior of the staff is greatly affected by the choice of target statistics. In the long run, the staff is often more guided by these key measures than by admonitions from their bosses. See pages 87-88 below.  

A first elementary social malfunction appears when core elements in a realm drive out all or most embedded elements. Life in a differentiated society would be unbearable for a large number of people – perhaps most of us – under a Darwinist capitalism in which a market economy rules supreme and everything and everybody are measured in dollars and cents. And it would become equally unbearable when political rulers of a state socialism decided everything and life was trapped in bureaucracy, even a bureaucracy legitimatised by elections. Or, it would become unbearable in a theocracy where ayatollahs dictated a mandatory pattern for economy, law, art, education, marriage, et cetera, based on religion, even if it were a renowned world religion.

Together with Karin Busch Zetterberg and others I have had the opportunity to do much diagnostic research and conduct a large number of consultations based on the notion of coworkers’ visible and invisible contracts with their organization[9]. The visible contracts specify what you shall do on the job, your working hours, and your pay. The invisible contracts specify unwritten but real expectations on the job. The visible contracts usually specify what is related to the core value of the realm in which an organization finds itself, i.e. the creation of money values for a firm, creation of order for a government agency, and knowledge creation for a research institute. The invisible contracts specify everything else on the job, not the least of which are the embedded elements from other realms, and thereby also the civility of the work place. An invisible contract may say that I help you because I know that you would help me. I care about my fellow workers, and my fellow workers care about me. I am loyal to my company and my company is loyal to me. A workplace with a clear visible contract but no or poor invisible ones would “work to rule”, a sure way of insuring that little constructive work gets done.

Second, malfunctions appear in any social endeavor when its dominant element gets lost in the stream of embedded elements from other realms. There is no leadership who sets clear and recognized goals of the organization. Invisible contracts then overwrite the visible ones. Distractions enter, purposes are lost, and people begin to solve the wrong rather than the right problems. Good fellowship replaces mission, buddies give each other unearned benefits, and “rent seeking” prevails.

We rightly say that the government has become corrupt when administrators pursue monetary gains instead of caring for the legal order they have as their responsibility. Corruption can occur in any realm when core values loose out and embedded values take over.

Realm autonomy, rewards, and rationalities

Marx assumed that the only autonomous societal realm was the economy; the body politic, culture, religion, ethics, formed a superstructure wholly conditioned by the economy. This “historical materialism” is no longer compatible with mainstream scholarship.

Weber thought that history was on a path of rationalization. Rationalization was a double star towards which all social change is heading: on the one hand, the multiplicity of human thought is arranged into systems, and on the other the great repertoire of action in human life is arranged in institutions. The first implied that rationalization secularizes religions, demystifies nature, breaks the enchantment of art, lays bare knowledge of magic and robs power of its dramatic mystique. The second form of rationalization rutinizes everyday life, organizes working life, ritualizes spiritual life, calculates business life, and turns leadership into bureaucracy. Weber, at least until very late in life, believed in a unified rationality for all of society. Such belief in reason is no longer compatible with mainstream scholarship.

The contemporary societal realms in North America and Europe, i.e., government and law, the economy, science, religion, ethics, and art, are in large measure self-regulating and autonomous. They have what Weber named Eigengesetzlichkeit (approximately, “realm autonomy”), a concept he left for his followers to elaborate[10]. To us it means that each realm treats the others as a setting or environment to which it must actively adjust, and from which it imports the elements it embeds. Each realm has its special version and institutionalization of freedom: academic freedom, free trade, civic rights, artistic license, and religious tolerance. And each realm has its own structures, reward system, and its own version of rationality. Once this becomes apparent you must abandon any idea that the same forces rule all societal realms.

The reward systems of the various realms (see pages 111-116 below) and the stratifications they produce are at the root of much ambition and pressures to build, conquer, and revamp social structures. Confused reward systems are a common cause of the inefficiencies that a consultant can diagnose and treat. The reward systems are also at the root of many conflicts that may require professional mediation. The conflict between capital and labor is the most publicized and studied but there are numerous others.

The varying rules of rationality in the different realms are a common cause of consternation. The modern economy is permeated by a special rationality, the rules of the market. In the domestic polity the consent of the governed is embodied in another rationality, the rules of democracy. In the global polity we have the rules of diplomacy and the rules of war. In science, as we noted, we have the rationality of discovery, documentation, teaching, and practice. The subjective truth of art has its own rationality, as have the holy rites of religion and the compelling commandments of ethics. Voltaire’s Enlightenment of the eighteenth century, which had promoted unitary rewards and a unified rationality for all of society, thus stands corrected[11]. This has profound implications for social science, a child of the Enlightenment.

The theory of “rational choice” is a very potent one in the social sciences. Economists, political scientists, and sociologists have used it in numerous consultations. But to be useful it presumes an unusual intellectual skill: that social scientists learn to think with scientific rationality about the entirely different rationalities of other realms. 

With their different freedoms, different rewards, and different rationalities, the various realms in a modern society form a many-splendor whole, a society freely pursuing knowledge, money, power, artistry, holiness, and moral rectitude. All these pursuits seem essential to individuals who want to live rich and full lives and to communities that claim to be advanced and civilized. Yet the pursuits are often dissonant and sometimes incompatible. Often the different rewards and rationalities get in the way of one another. It is a basic fact of the human condition that the societal realms have aspects that are incommensurate.

A threefold stance for coping with this dilemma in the twenty-first century might be:

First, we should be very restrictive in promoting the ideals of the market economy outside the realm of business.

Second, we should be very restrictive in promoting the ideals of democracy outside the realm of politics.

Third, we should see to it that science, art, religion, and ethics get a concrete chance to develop their core activities on their own merits, undisturbed by one another, and by business and politics.

Needless to say, in the beginning of the twenty-first century, these rules of thumb are not common wisdom among the general public. Nor are they endorsed by the leading social scientists. They have become my personal credo in applying social science to practical problems.

The presentation of knowledge for practitioners

I have illustrated two elementary malfunctions in society and their cures in a paper on “The Scientific Acedia [12].” Acedia is an occupational hazard among men and women of learning that takes the form of a gradual withdrawal of motivation for research and an increasing alienation from science. There are several types of acedia. One is a result of the concentration of all rewards in the scientific role at the expense of the scientist’s involvement in his family, friends, and community. The scientist in this position has pinned his entire self-evaluation on the solution of some narrow scientific problems. When such solutions are not readily forthcoming, acedia sets in. This is the acedia of specialization. The other type of acedia is caused by a dispersion of gratifications, so that the scientist feels more rewarded in his non-scientific activities than in his scientific job. His science does not compete well with his family, his business ventures, his political aspirations, and his social life. This is the acedia of differentiation. It is important to keep the two separate because they seem to occur in quite different circumstances and require different treatments.

The paper on acedia is also my only illustration to the discussions (on pages 19-20 below) of the presentation of knowledge for use by practitioners. Its subheads – ”Definition,” ”History of Knowledge,” ”Incidence,” ”Etiology,” ”Symptoms,” ”Prognosis,” ”Diagnosis,” ”Treatment,” and ”Prevention” – are the ones used by Sir William Osler in his classical work Principles and Practice of Medicine to organize medical knowledge for fingertip use by physicians. This model was used for half a century. It did not require change to accommodate new medical knowledge. It is very different from the presentation of the laws and systems of physiology, heredity, anatomy, etc.

Social science has not yet a standardized format for presentation of knowledge to practitioners that differs from the academic presentation of research, or from textbook presentations used to introduce students to the field.

Applied theory as an uncertain trumpet

Dare chief executives and their boards take decisions costing millions of dollars and based on existing social theory supplemented with a minimum of diagnostic observation or research? Should democratic politicians trust that social science theory guides them to good policies that lead to contentment and consent of the governed? Can social science theorizing help humanitarian, artistic, or religious missions? Can we trust social science?

Our own method of applied social theory was met by disbelief, as is evident from the Preface to the 1962 edition of this book.

The following forty years have not overcome the marginality of this method within the sociological profession. While there is an abundant growth in the number of sociologists and anthropologists engaged in applied research, there is no established occupational role as sociological or anthropological consultant using theories as their main knowledge base for solving practical problems. The picture is perhaps somewhat brighter for political science. There are at least established jobs with the label “political consultants”. The situation for economics has long been brighter. Governments have boards of economic advisors. Jobs as economic and financial consultants in the private sector are many. There are also many management and communication consultants. They often work without much aid of theory, since management theory and communication theory have many more inspired approaches than firm conclusions. Psychologists have a knowledge base not only in social science but also in the health sciences. This has given them status. They can be certified for practice. Social workers can also be certified, but in welfare states they seem to rely more on knowledge of current legislation than on a knowledge of social science.

It is on record that consultants from the social sciences can come to opposing recommendations. Economists disagree on policies, but not necessarily on economic facts. Management gurus may take corporations in different directions in spite of the fact that they subscribe to the same recent organizational theories. Social workers and psychologist disagree on social cases, and so forth. By a requirement in their publicist creed that all sides of a story shall be heard, journalists inadvertently exaggerate this depiction of disagreement. Experts representing a small deviant minority opinion grow to be seen by the media publics as equally trustworthy as those who air “the present mainstream standpoint of science”.

There are also disagreements among those consultants who come from different areas of society. Actually, it should not surprise us when political consultants recommend courses of action different from those recommended by management consultants, and that social workers, psychologists, and ethicists shake their heads at both recommendations. After all, these consultants work in different realms, and each realm, as we have argued, has elements that de facto are out of line with elements in other realms.

There is also the question of influences from non-academic sources. The social sciences, more than the natural sciences, are captives of the Zeitgeist and of media fads. In spite of their many profound discussions, the social sciences tend to take over the assumptions of the high-publicity movements of the day. “This over-ready acceptance of the main assumptions of the going system has been a source of confusion and embarrassment to the social sciences”, Lynd said. And things are not better when the social sciences without further ado take over assumptions from the counter-culture. In the past four decades the deans of social science faculties have let too many departments (or parts of a department) deteriorate into promotion centers for various social and political isms rather than letting the departments be centers for serious research on issues raised by the isms.

To stand clear of the Zeitgeist and give the decisive part of advice only on the basis of confirmed theories is actually a stricter obligation for practitioners of social science than for those whose practice is based on medical or physical sciences. The future practical use of academic theories in solving societal problems requires such discipline. In the past decades such intellectual stringency has not been universally maintained at the universities. Can it be maintained today and in the future? Certainly not everywhere, but some faculties of social science will probably, like cloisters, maintain a discipline that makes applied theory in scholarly consultations a viable enterprise.

The future of applied theory in the social sciences

In the end the development of well-grounded theories in the social sciences set the limits for any robust and lasting activity of applied theory.

We have several macro-theories to define major categories of societies and civilizations. Here it does make a difference to our conclusions if we use the grand schemes of Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Herbert Spencer, Émile Durkheim, Max Weber, Arnold Toynbee, Pitirim Sorokin, Karl Popper, Talcott Parsons, Niklas Luhmann, Mary Douglas, James Coleman, or other giants of knowledge about total societies. Practitioners of social science tend to dismiss many of them as engaged in “speculation”, not realizing that they themselves may be unwitting followers of some of the grand ideas of these classics.

Any good course in the history of social theory will indicate that the grand theories in varying degree suffer from “premature closure.” This has lead Pierre Bourdieu to dismiss all prior categorizations and start each project from scratch, using methods such as correspondence analysis. His attitude strikes me as unnecessarily wasteful of the rich heritage of social science. As indicated, I firmly believe that the search for a common and inclusive categorical scheme for the social sciences actually favors the development of research, databases, teaching, and practice. A sophisticated macro-theory of society would be particularly helpful in interpreting problems and conflicts, not only within realms, but also between realms and between total societies.

Today we already have many theories of the middle range. Each is based on evidence but limited to a special aspect of society and a special point in history. These theories are the life buoys of the serious consultants. To broaden their numbers is, of course, essential to applied social science. Their numbers did multiply from the 1960s[13] to the end of the twentieth century.[14].

In the present book, the term “scientific theory” is restricted to confirmed propositions, either those for which there are direct empirical evidence, or those for which we had indirect evidence in the sense that a proposition is a logical consequence of already confirmed propositions. (This is sometimes called logical empiricism, but my use of this doctrine is not orthodox for I accept categorical schemes with a priori elements.) I once set out the criteria for confirmation of propositions in a monograph entitled On Theory and Verification in Sociology[15]. I am today also prepared to accept slightly looser propositions as bases for scholarly consultations. For example, the results of Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss’ approach to theory construction are certainly helpful to practitioners[16]. It depends less on a search through the research literature and relies more on a theoretical coding of the users’ own observations.

Propositional social theory usually starts from elements rather than wholes. This is an unnecessary limitation. A “whole” can exhibit properties that are not mere sums of the properties of the “parts.” Russell Ackoff’s system-oriented management theory[17] is a corrective to the middle-range propositional theories that start with parts and deal with parts. It is particularly viable for consultants with the ambition to construct the new rather then to repair the old.

The stages and benchmarks of social processes

With the above amendments I would write this book today in roughly the same way as it was written in 1962. The one section I would add is a review of studies that present descriptive orientations of social processes. I neglected them in 1962. They differ from the majority of descriptive orientations (pp. 32-34 below) in that they tell about sequences of events that usually recur. In some writings they appeared under headings such as “The natural history of ---. “ Several have proven useful for consultants as general orientations. Let us take two examples  there are many others[18].

When opinions mature

Daniel Yankelovich has argued that practically every mature public opinion has passed seven stages[19]. When an opinion has passed through all of them, politicians, business strategists, editorial writers, PR-consultants, and voluntary associations can trust them.

After a referendum in 1994 Sweden joined the European Union. Sweden, of course, is a part of the geographical and historic Europe, but the country had rejected an earlier opening to join the European Union when neighboring Denmark became a member. Let us take the opinions about joining as an illustration of the Yankelovich stages that public opinion passes through.

1. Awareness of an issue. As part of the general internationalizations of the late twentieth century, many Swedes realized that they had became increasingly dependent on other parts of the world, and particularly on those countries already in the European Union.

2. Sense that the issue soon must be decided. Openings to join the European Union were far between. The country had to decide before the EU-train with new members had left the station. The next chance lay many years in the future.

3. Hunting for solutions. The country could cope with internationalization by staying outside the European Union but become more European anyway by increasing its already institutionalized cooperation and integration with its Nordic neighbors. Or, the country could cope with the internationalization by intensifying its work in the United Nations, which is more encompassing than the European Union. Or the country could join the Union.

4. Wishful thinking. At this stage unrealistic arguments abound. Some say that Sweden has a better welfare system than the other countries in Europe so there is no need to join. Others say that Swedes by joining can reshape the European Union so that it becomes more like Sweden.

5. Working out realistic choices. At this stage most people begin to realize that there are clear advantages and clear disadvantages of joining, and they began to assess the pros and the cons.

6. Cerebral solution. On the pro-side a sense now crystallizes that pro-arguments, and persons and institutions that support the pro-side, are the better ones. On the con side the opposite sense crystallizes. At this stage of cognitive decision-making the polls in Sweden show even sides. But many who are opposed or uncertain tell the pollsters that they, too, think that the country will eventually join the European Union. This fact hints at the outcome of the referendum.

7. Mature judgment. At this stage the pros are willing to intellectually and emotionally sacrifice the amount of sovereignty needed for a future in the European Union. And the anti-EUs are intellectually and emotionally ready to give up economic and other advantages of the union in order for their country to stay outside and be independent. Both sides think their choice is best for future generations. And both can support their views in debates and conversations even when media present news negative to their views.

Public opinion is shaky and unstable unless it reaches the maturity of the seventh stage. In the Swedish referendum fewer pros than contras reached this stage. A political decision to join the European Union was made, but the majority opinion recorded by the referendum was not mature. At the time of this writing, six years after the referendum, the Swedish public is more negative to the European Union than any other public in a member country. The pro-EU forces won the referendum but lost (at least temporarily) their cause.

Consultants to any campaigns of information and propaganda should be careful in interpreting polls. They should see to it that their clients use pollsters capable of telling not only the distribution of public opinion but also their level of maturity.

When social movements rise and fall

Social movements seem to have a natural life cycle. Combining the insights in an article by Downs[20] and a book by Spector and Kitsuse[21] we can identify six stages.

1. Pre-problem stage. A harmful situation exists but has not yet attracted the attention of lawmakers, journalists, or the public. Small groups make initial claims and begin to recruit support.

2. Alarmed discovery and euphoric enthusiasm. A dramatic event creates large public support for solving the problem.

3. Official recognition of problem. Established leadership get involved: there may be legislation or a creation of agencies to deal with the harmful situation.

4. Gradual decline in public interest. Recognizing the costs of significant progress and becoming bored with the problem, media attention fades, and the public loses interest. At this stage the movements will survive only if they find new issues.

5. Active dissatisfaction in original groups. The groups who made initial claims reemerge and express dissatisfaction with how the harmful situation is being handled. Some who have lost confidence in how the problem is being handled try to create revivals with broader or more radical agendas.

6. Post-problem stage. In spite of the fact that only limited improvement has been achieved, the issue at hand is replaced by new problems.

These stages are useful benchmarks for consultants who get involved in assessing public reaction to potentially harmful problems. Knowledge of these stages is also useful when consultants advise on the impact on social change of various movements, or, on efforts to lengthen the life of a movement.

A sophisticated consultant does not take for granted that a social movement will have its day and blow over. The century-old environmental movement has switched its concerns from conservation and national parks to any recreation on lakes or in mountains and woods, to abatement of noise and congestion in cities, to air and water pollution, to abandoning nuclear energy, to the clean-up of poisonous waste, to biological diversity, to an agriculture free from chemical fertilizers and pesticides, to global warming. A core of ecology has remained in all these changes. The shifting foci have given environmentalism a much longer life than a typical social movement.

Stockholm, Sweden in May 2001

Hans L Zetterberg

[1]An amended version of this chapter called “The Vocabulary of Mundane and Institutional Sociology” is found in Sociological Endeavor. Selected Writings, edited by R Swedberg and E Uddhammar with an Introduction by S M Lipset. European edition: City University Press, Stockholm 1997. US Edition 1998: Transaction Press, New Brunswick, NJ, pp 105-122. In the latter text a category of “Preservers” was added to the Creators, Purveyors and Receivers (ibid. p. 115). Weber was satisfied with Organizations (“bureaucracy”) and Markets as the most decisive of the many forces of modern history. In our days we must add Media as a third decisive force. A fuller version of the categorical scheme is found in H L Zetterberg, “Samspelet mellan skolor och totalsamhällen” (in Swedish, in a book edited by Anders Agell to be published by Iustus, Uppsala, 2002).

[2] Lynd, R S, Knowledge for What?, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ, 1939

[3] Selznick, Ph, TVA and the Grassroots, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1949

[4] Lipset, S M, Agrarian Socialism: the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation in Saskatchewan, University of California Press, Berkeley 1950

[5]Lister L, Europe´s Steel and Coal Community: an Experiment in Economic Union, Twentieth Century Fund, New York, 1960

[6] See, for example, Eichengreen, B, Golden Fetters. The Gold Standard and the Great Depression 1919-1939, Oxford University Press, 1992 and Friedman M, Studies in the Quantitative Theory of Money, Chicago University Press, Chicago 1956

[7] Organic collaboration is, of course, akin to the solidarité organique which Émile Durkheim found characteristic of differentiated societies.

[8] Stiegler, G, The Economist as Preacher and Other Essays, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1982

[9] The knowledge base for this work is Zetterberg, H L, Busch, K, Crona, G, Frankel, G, Jönsson, B and Söderlind, I, and Winander, B, Det osynliga kontraktet, Sifo Förlag, Vällingby, 2nd edition 1984, a monograph that reports the Swedish part of an international project presented in Yankelovich D, Strümpel, B, Shanks, M, Zetterberg, H L et al., The World at Work, Octagon Books, New York, 1985

[10] It is ironic that this principle reduces the relevance of the younger Weber’s thesis on the role of the protestant ethic in the developing capitalism, which more recent research confirms. See Lehmann, H & Roth, G (editors), Weber’s Protestant Ethic. Origins, Evidence, Contexts, German Historical Institute, Washington DC and Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1993

[11] Berlin, I, The Roots of Romanticism (edited by H Hardy), Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1999 

[12] Reprinted in Sociological Endeavor. Selected Writings, pp 223-232

[13] A particularly ambitious effort began with Anderson, B, Berger, J & Zelditch, Jr M (editors),

Social Theories in Progress, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston,

[14] For a late example, see Hedström, P and Swedberg, R (editors), Social Mechanisms: an Analytical Approach to Social Theory, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1998

[15] The main part of the third edition (1965) of this work is reprinted in Sociological Endeavor. Selected Writings, pp 24-74

[16]Glaser, B G & Strauss, A L, The Discovery of Grounded Theory, Aldine, New York, 1967

[17]Ackoff, R L, Ackoff's Best: His Classic Writings on Management, New York, Wiley, 1999

[18] Examples are Gordon, M, Assimilation in American Life, Oxford University Press, 1964, Rose, J D, Outbreaks, Free Press, New York, 1982, Goode, E & Ben-Yehuda, N, Moral Panics: the Social Construction of Deviance, Blackwell, Oxford, 1994

[19] Yankelovich, D, Coming to Public Judgment: Making Democracy Work in a Complex World, Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, New York, 1991

[20] Downs, A, “Up and Down with Ecology: The ‘Issue Attention Cycle’”, Public Interest, 28 (1972), 38-50

[21] Spector, M & Kitsuse, J. Constructing Social Problems. Cummings, Menlo Park, CA, 1977