Emergence, self-organization, and social interaction: Arousal-dependent structure in social systems

Sociological Theory 14 (2):131-153 (1996)
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Abstract

The understanding of emergent, self-organizing phenomena has been immensely deepened in recent years on the basis of simulation-based theoretical research. We discuss these new ideas, and illustrate them using examples from several fields. Our discussion serves to introduce equivalent self-organized phenomena in social interaction. Interaction systems appear to be structured partly by virtue of such emergents. These appear under specific conditions: When cognitive buffering is inadequate relative to the levels of stress persons are subjected to, anxiety-spreading has the potential of pushing their interaction into nonlinear conditions. Arousal in these conditions produces effects on behavior arising from biological sources-indeed, behavior can come under the control of reflex patterns. When this occurs, psychological activity no longer screens off biological controls over behavior. As the direct effects of biological activity spill into interaction, attachment behavior introduced into an interaction system can produce effects that are transmitted beyond dyads to produce global social patterns. These effects illustrate how strong interactions based in biological activity can produce an architecture for social systems

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