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Social Structures
John Levi Martin

Winner of the 2010 Theory Prize, American Sociological Association

Paperback | 2011 | $37.50 | £31.95 | ISBN: 9780691150123
408 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 3 halftones. 47 line illus. 2 tables.
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Social Structures is a book that examines how structural forms spontaneously arise from social relationships. Offering major insights into the building blocks of social life, it identifies which locally emergent structures have the capacity to grow into larger ones and shows how structural tendencies associated with smaller structures shape and constrain patterns of larger structures. The book then investigates the role such structures have played in the emergence of the modern nation-state.

Bringing together the latest findings in sociology, anthropology, political science, and history, John Levi Martin traces how sets of interpersonal relationships become ordered in different ways to form structures. He looks at a range of social structures, from smaller ones like families and street gangs to larger ones such as communes and, ultimately, nation-states. He finds that the relationships best suited to forming larger structures are those that thrive in conditions of inequality; that are incomplete and as sparse as possible, and thereby avoid the problem of completion in which interacting members are required to establish too many relationships; and that abhor transitivity rather than assuming it. Social Structures argues that these "patronage" relationships, which often serve as means of loose coordination in the absence of strong states, are nevertheless the scaffolding of the social structures most distinctive to the modern state, namely the command army and the political party.


"While his interest in structures has a venerable lineage, Martin's approach is highly distinctive. . . . The book is without doubt an eclectic, ambitious, provocative, sophisticated, and instructive undertaking. . . . Social Structures deserves a wide readership and its ideas a sympathetic hearing."--Science

"Martin provides an accessible and workable perspective as he examines the array of social structures, from the smaller, such as cliques or family, to the larger construct of nation. . . . In short, this is an excellent book, substantive in supporting Martin's claims as well as provocative in terms of generating further inquiry. Readers will find Martin's perspective both intriguing and well supported."--Choice

"[R]ather than giving the impression of being the beginning of a new, exciting research program, Social Structures rather feels like a well-deserving closing chapter for the project of a specifically 'sociological' form of structuralist explanation."--Omar Lizardo, Sociologica

"Social Structures is illuminating--good to think with and fun to argue with. It belongs on a short shelf of important contributions to structural theories of society."--Paul DiMaggio, American Journal of Sociology


"John Levi Martin closely examines social structures from a stunning range of scopes and eras. The art and wonder of this amazing book is the verve and plausibility of his concatenation of themes, which, despite his disclaimers, do embrace large and complex structures: armies, patronage formations, and one-party states are where he digs deepest. Meanings, and so ambiguities, are central to his vision, which opens up the varied heuristics we use in navigating social life and especially social networks."--Harrison C. White, author of Identity and Control and Markets from Networks

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Table of Contents:

Acknowledgments vii
Preface: From Big Structures to Small ix
Chapter 1: Introduction: Social Action and Structures 1
Chapter 2: From a Small Circle of Friends to a Long Line of Rivals 26
Chapter 3: The Preservation of Equality through Exchange Structures 72
Chapter 4: The Institutionalization of Inequality: Pecking Orders 104
Chapter 5: The Escape from Comparability and the Genesis of Influence Structures 151
Chapter 6: The Short Cut to Structure with Patronage Pyramids 189
Chapter 7: The Institution of Transitivity and the Production of Command Structures 232
Chapter 8: From Pyramid to Party 283
Chapter 9: From Structures to Institutions 321
References 343
Index 383

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