KeywordsSociology & anthropology
Soziologie von Gesamtgesellschaften
Macrosociology, Analysis of Whole Societies
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AbstractIn search of an answer to the questions of what a knowledge society is and how it emerges we draw connections between the macro-institutional theory of the American political economist Douglass C. North and the theory of micro-social mechanisms of the Swedish sociologist Peter Hedström. North considers the institutional framework of a society as determining, in principle, the structure of economic opportunities and incentives for social actors. Actors acquire those types of knowledge and skills that they perceive most “valuable” or “profitable” and, at the same time, using the acquired types of knowledge and skills, they perceive possibilities for new opportunities and incentives, i.e. for changing the institutional framework. In addition to being influenced by the structure of economic incentives, the actors’ perception of value/“profitability” is also impacted by “mental constructs”, which actors use in order to interpret the world around them. In Hedström’s view, on the other hand, desires, beliefs and opportunities of social actors determine their actions, which, in turn, have an impact on desires, beliefs and opportunities, and thus also the actions, of other actors. Desires and beliefs roughly correspond to the mental, while opportunities correspond to the structural component of the North’s approach. These theories imply that a society in which (1a) the majority of its members want to be successful and believe that success can be achieved only by investing an effort, and in which (1b) a system of rewards according to merits has been established – such a society will considerably differ from a corrupt society (2a) comprised of the majority desiring success, but believing that it can most expeditiously be achieved by exploiting social connections to powerful actors, and in which (2b) clientelism and corruption are not adequately sanctioned. Development of a knowledge society can be influenced (1) by developing a corresponding institutional framework of opportunities and incentives, (2) by disseminating an appropriate narrative through various modalities of public discourse in order to influence desires and beliefs of social actors, and particularly (3) through acting by example, which provides a means to prove credibility of proclaimed intentions.