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Capturing Social Embeddedness: a constructivist approach - Bruce Edmonds

3 Characterising Social Embeddedness

In attempting to elucidate the concepts of `social situatedness' or `social embeddedness', one faces the problem of where to base one's discussion. In sociology it is almost an assumption that the relevant agents are ultimately embedded in their society - phenomena are described at the social level and their impact on individual behaviour is sometimes considered. This is epitomised by Durkheim, when he claims that some social phenomena should be considered entirely separately from individual phenomena [11]. Cognitive science has the opposite perspective - the individual's behaviour and processes are primitive and the social phenomena may emerge as an emergent result of such individuals interacting.

This split is mirrored in the world of computational agents. In traditional AI it is the individual agent's mental processes and behaviour that are the focus of their models and this has been extended to considerations of the outcomes when such autonomous agents interact. In Artificial Life and computational organisational theory the system (i.e. as a whole) is the focal point and the parts representing the agents tend to be relatively simple.

For this reason I will take a pragmatist approach and suggest the categorisation of social systems relative to some pertinent modelling considerations. This is based on a philosophy of pragmatic holism which is constructivist in style. Its essence is that regardless of whether the natural world is theoretically reducible we have to act as if there are irreducible wholes. This means that we should explicitly include aspects of the modelling process in our theories. For more on this position see [12]. Thus, I wish to step back from disputes as to the extent to which people (or agents) are socially embedded to one of the appropriateness of different types of models of agents. I want to avoid the idealisations involved in this disputed area and concentrate on what can are useful attributions in describing social situations and their computational analogs.

3.1 - Being Situated
3.2 - Being Socially Situated
3.3 - Being Socially Embedded
3.4 - Possible Effects of Social Embeddedness on Behaviour
3.5 - Checking for Social Embeddedness

Capturing Social Embeddedness: a constructivist approach - Bruce Edmonds - 30 OCT 98
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