Home  FAQ  Search  Memberlist  Usergroups  KDR  Register  Log in  

Share | 

 Social and Political Engineering

View previous topic View next topic Go down 
mike lewis

Posts : 190
Join date : 2012-03-22

PostSubject: Social and Political Engineering   Sat 03 Nov 2012, 6:18 pm

Political Engineering: The Design of Institutions, Dr. Jeffrey R. Lax, Department of Politics, New York University

Quote: "The product of such analysis, which is reflected in the title of this course, is normative: To design institutions that meet certain “engineering” specifications and, therefore, may be superior to institutions that, because they arose more haphazardly, may not satisfy these specifications. Like engineering in the natural sciences, which translates theory (e.g., from physics) into practical design (e.g., a bridge), engineering in the social sciences translates rational-choice analysis into the design of better political-economic-social institutions." and "Informed answers to these questions require that we set forth criteria—the specifications of the engineer—for evaluating institutions. In this course, we will invoke such criteria as efficiency, equitability, freedom from certain paradoxes, etc.

In his classic political science book, The Open Society and Its Enemies, volume I, The Spell of Plato, Karl Popper examined the application of the critical and rational methods of science to the problems of the open society. In this respect, he made a crucial distinction between the principles of democratic social reconstruction (called "piecemeal social engineering") and "Utopian social engineering".

Popper wrote:

the piecemeal engineer will adopt the method of searching for, and fighting against, the greatest and most urgent evil of society, rather than searching for, and fighting for, its greatest ultimate good.[1]

According to Popper, the difference between "piecemeal social engineering" and "Utopian social engineering" is:

the difference between a reasonable method of improving the lot of man, and a method which, if really tried, may easily lead to an intolerable increase in human suffering. It is the difference between a method which can be applied at any moment, and a method whose advocacy may easily become a means of continually postponing action until a later date, when conditions are more favorable. And it is also the difference between the only method of improving matters which has so far been really successful, at any time, and in any place, and a method which, wherever it has been tried, has led only to the use of violence in place of reason, and if not to its own abandonment, at any rate to that of its original blueprint.

Social engineering is a discipline in political science that refers to efforts to influence popular attitudes and social behaviors on a large scale, whether by governments or private groups. In the political arena, the counterpart of social engineering is political engineering.

For various reasons, the term has been imbued with negative connotations. However, virtually all law and governance has the effect of seeking to change behavior and could be considered "social engineering" to some extent. Prohibitions on murder, rape, suicide and littering are all policies aimed at discouraging undesirable behaviors. In British and Canadian jurisprudence, changing public attitudes about a behaviour is accepted as one of the key functions of laws prohibiting it. Governments also influence behavior more subtly through incentives and disincentives built into economic policy and tax policy, for instance, and have done so for centuries.


Before one can engage in social engineering, one must have reliable information about the society that is to be engineered and effective tools to carry out the engineering. Both of these became available only relatively recently: roughly within the past one hundred years. The development of social science made it possible to gather and analyze information about social attitudes and trends, which is necessary in order to judge the initial state of society before an engineering attempt and the success or failure of that attempt after it has been implemented. At the same time, the development of modern communications technology and the media provided the tools through which social engineering could be carried out.

While social engineering can be carried out by any organization. whether large or small, public or private, the most comprehensive (and often the most effective) campaigns of social engineering are those initiated by powerful central governments.

Extremely intensive social engineering campaigns occurred in countries with authoritarian governments. In the 1920s, the government of the Soviet Union embarked on a campaign to fundamentally alter the behavior and ideals of Soviet citizens, to replace the old social frameworks of Tsarist Russia with a new Soviet culture, to create the New Soviet man. The Soviets used newspapers, books, film, mass relocations, and even architectural design tactics to serve as "social condenser" and change personal values and private relationships. Similar examples are the Chinese "Great Leap Forward" and "Cultural Revolution" program and the Khmer Rouge's plan of deurbanization of Cambodia. In Singapore, the government's housing policies attempt to promote a mix of all races within each subsidized housing district in order to foster social cohesion and national loyalty while providing the citizens with affordable housing.

Non-authoritarian regimes tend to rely on more sustained social engineering campaigns that create more gradual, but ultimately far-reaching, change. Examples include the "War on Drugs" in the United States, the increasing reach of intellectual property rights and copyright, and the promotion of elections as a political tool. The campaign for promoting elections, which is by far the most successful of the three examples, has been in place for over two centuries. Social theorists of the Frankfurt School in Weimar Germany like Theodor Adorno had also observed the new phenomenon of mass culture and commented on its new manipulative power, when the rise of the Nazis drove them out of the country around 1930 (many of them became connected with the Institute for Social Research in the United States). The Nazis themselves were no strangers to the idea of influencing political attitudes and re-defining personal relationships. The Nazi propaganda machine under Joseph Goebbels was a synchronized, sophisticated and effective tool for creating public opinion.

In a similar vein the Greek military junta of 1967-1974 attempted to steer Greek public opinion not only by propaganda but also by inventing new words and slogans such as palaiokommatismos (old-partyism), Ellas Ellinon Christianon (Greece of Christian Greeks), and Ethnosotirios Epanastasis (nation-saving revolution, meaning coup d'état).

Social engineering can be used as a means to achieve a wide variety of different results, as illustrated by the different governments and other organizations that have employed it. The discussion of the possibilities for such manipulation became especially active following World War II, with the advent of television, and continuing discussion of techniques of social engineering, particularly in advertising, is still quite pertinent in the western model of consumer capitalism.

Political engineering is a concept in political science that deals with the designing of political institutions in a society and often involves the use of paper decrees, in the form of laws, referendums, ordinances, or otherwise, to try to achieve some desired effect within a society.[1]

The criteria and constraints used in such design vary depending on the optimization methods used.[1] Usually democratic political systems have not been deemed suitable as subjects of political engineering methods.[2][3] Political engineering, using suboptimal methods or criteria, can sometimes yield disastrous results as in the case of attempting to engineer a previously democratic country's political landscape by such methods as, for example, a coup d'état. The Greek military junta of 1967-1974 used political engineering utilizing a coup d'état to dissolve the democratic system of Greece with catastrophic results. Political engineering can also be employed to design alternative voting procedures in a democratic system.[4]

In the social arena the counterpart of political engineering is social engineering.

For various reasons, the term has been imbued with negative connotations. However, virtually all law and governance has the effect of changing behavior and can be considered "political engineering" to some extent. Prohibitions on murder, rape, suicide and littering are all policies aimed at discouraging undesirable behaviors. In British and Canadian jurisprudence, changing public attitudes about a behavior is accepted as one of the key functions of laws prohibiting it. Governments also influence behavior more subtly through incentives and disincentives built into economic policy and tax policy, for instance, and have done so for centuries.

In practice, whether any specific policy is labeled as "political engineering" is often a question of intent. The term is most often used by libertarians, free-market thinkers, and traditionalists as an accusation against anyone who proposes to use law, tax policy, or other kinds of state influence to change existing power relationships: for instance, between men and women, or between different ethnic groups. Political conservatives in the United States have accused their opponents of social engineering through the promotion of political correctness, insofar as it may change social attitudes by defining "acceptable" and "unacceptable" language or acts. The right has itself been accused of social engineering due to its promotion of Abstinence-only sex education, the English-only movement, Sodomy laws and state sponsored school prayer.
Back to top Go down
View user profile
mike lewis

Posts : 190
Join date : 2012-03-22

PostSubject: Re: Social and Political Engineering   Sat 03 Nov 2012, 6:21 pm

Social control refers generally to societal and political mechanisms or processes that regulate individual and group behavior, leading to conformity and compliance to the rules of a given society, state, or social group. Many mechanisms of social control are cross-cultural, if only in the control mechanisms used to prevent the establishment of chaos or anomie.

Some theorists, such as Émile Durkheim, refer to this form of control as regulation. Sociologists identify two basic forms of social controls:

Internal Control- Internalisation of norms and values by a process known as socialization. Socialization is defined as "“the process by which an individual, born with behavioral potentialities of enormously wide range, is led to develop actual behavior which is confined to the narrower range of what is acceptable for him by the group standards.”[1]
External Control- External sanctions, which can be either positive (rewards) or negative (punishment).[2] These sanctions come from either formal or informal control.

While the concept of social control has been around since the formation of organized sociology, the meaning has been altered over time. Originally the concept simply referred to society’s ability to regulate itself.[3] However, in the 1930’s, the term took on its more modern meaning of the individual’s conversion to conformity.[3] Social control theory began to be studied as a separate field in the early 20th century. The means to enforce social control can be either formal or informal.[4] Sociologist Edward A. Ross argued that belief systems exert a greater control on human behavior than laws imposed by government, no matter what form the beliefs take.

Informal social control

The social values that are present in individuals are products of informal social control. It is exercised by a society without explicitly stating these rules and is expressed through customs, norms, and mores. Individuals are socialized whether consciously or subconsciously. During informal sanctions, ridicule or ostracism can cause a straying towards norms. The person internalizes these mores and norms. Traditional society uses mostly informal social control embedded in its customary culture relying on the socialization of its members

Informal sanctions may include shame, ridicule, sarcasm, criticism and disapproval. In extreme cases sanctions may include social discrimination and exclusion. This implied social control usually has more effect on individuals because they become internalized and thus an aspect of personality. Informal sanctions check 'deviant' behavior. An example of a negative sanction comes from a scene in the Pink Floyd film 'The Wall,' whereby the young protagonist is ridiculed and verbally abused by a high school teacher for writing poetry in a mathematics class. (Another example: About a boy, who hesitates to jump from a high springboard, is possible to say, that he is effeminate. By the fact, that he eventually jumps, he escapes from this denotation. His behavior is conditionally controlled by a shame, which is unpleasant.[5])

As with formal controls, informal controls reward or punish acceptable or unacceptable behaviour (i.e., deviance). Informal controls are varied and differ from individual to individual, group to group and society to society. For example, at a women's institute meeting, a disapproving look might convey the message that it is inappropriate to flirt with the minister. In a criminal gang, on the other hand, a stronger sanction applies in the case of someone threatening to inform to the police.

Formal social control

Informal social control is often not sufficient in a large society in which an individual can choose to ignore the sanctions of an individual group. Thus, there is a need for formal control to supplement informal control.[7] This form of control usually takes the form of government action. Government and organizations use law enforcement mechanisms and other formal sanctions such as fines and imprisonment.[4] In democratic societies the goals and mechanisms of formal social control are determined through legislation by elected representatives and thus enjoy a measure of support from the population and voluntary compliance.

Douglas D. Heckathorn notes that the effectiveness of any type of formal control is determined by the relative strength of the sanction in terms of extent of punishment, monitoring ability, and degree of group or informal control on the individual.

Applications of social control theory

According to the propaganda model theory, the leaders of modern, government-dominated societies employ indoctrination as a means of social control. Theorists such as Noam Chomsky have argued that systemic bias exists in the modern media.[9] The marketing, advertising, and public relations industries have thus been said to utilize mass communications to aid the interests of certain political and business elites. Powerful ideological, economic and religious lobbyists have often used school systems and centralised electronic communications to influence public opinion. Democracy is restricted as the majority is not given the information necessary to make rational decisions about ethical, social, environmental, or economic issues.

To maintain control and regulate their subjects, authoritarian organizations and governments promulgate rules and issue decrees. However, due to a lack of popular support for enforcement, these entities may rely more on force and other severe sanctions such as censorship, expulsion and limits on political freedom. Some totalitarian governments, such as the late Soviet Union or the current North Korea, rely on the mechanisms of the police state.

Sociologists consider informal means of social control vital in maintaining public order, but also recognize the necessity of formal means as societies become more complex and for responding to emergencies. The study of social control falls primarily within the academic disciplines of anthropology, political science, and sociology.

The continual application of low-level fear, as in mass surveillance or an electronic police state also exerts a powerful coercive force upon a populace.
Back to top Go down
View user profile
mike lewis

Posts : 190
Join date : 2012-03-22

PostSubject: Re: Social and Political Engineering   Sat 03 Nov 2012, 6:23 pm

A social engineer is one who tries to influence popular attitudes, social behaviors, and resource management on a large scale. Social engineering is the application of the scientific method for social concern. Social engineers use the methods of science to analyze and understand social systems, so as to arrive at appropriate decisions as scientists, and not as politicians. The major difference between politicians and social engineers is that scientists base decisions on careful evaluations and objectivity without differential advantage. In the political arena, the counterpart of social engineering is political engineering.

Decision-making can affect the safety and survival of literally billions of people. As expressed by German Sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies in his study The Present Problems of Social Structure,[1] society can no longer operate successfully using outmoded methods of social management. To achieve the best outcomes, all conclusions and decisions must use the most advanced techniques and include reliable statistical data, which can be applied to a social system. In other words, Social Engineering is a data-based scientific system used to develop a sustainable design so as to achieve the intelligent management of Earth’s resources with the highest levels of freedom, prosperity, and happiness within a population.


The term sociale ingenieurs was introduced in an essay by the Dutch industrialist J.C. Van Marken in 1894. The idea was that modern employers needed the assistance of specialists - "social engineers" - in handling the human problems of the planet, just as they needed technical expertise (ordinary engineers) to deal with the problems of dead matter (materials, machines, processes). The term was brought to America in 1899, when the notion of "social engineering" was also launched as the name of the task of the social engineer in this sense. "Social engineering" was the title of a small journal in 1899 (from 1900 named "Social Service"), and in 1909 the title of a book by its former editor, William H. Tolman (translated in French in 1910), marking the end of the usage of the terminology in the sense of Van Marken. With the Social Gospel sociologist Edwin L. Earp's The Social Engineer, published during the "efficiency craze" of 1911 in the U.S., the usage of the term was launched that has since then been standard: the one building on a metaphor of social relations as "machineries",[2] to be dealt with in the manner of the technical engineer.
Back to top Go down
View user profile
mike lewis

Posts : 190
Join date : 2012-03-22

PostSubject: Re: Social and Political Engineering   Sat 03 Nov 2012, 6:26 pm

"Social technology" is a term that has historically had two meanings: as a term related to social engineering, a meaning that began in the 19th century, and as a description of social software, a meaning that began in the early 21st century.

Related to "social engineering"

The term "social technology" was first used at the University of Chicago by Albion Woodbury Small and Charles Richmond Henderson around the end of the 19th century. At a seminar in 1898, Small spoke of social technology as being the use of knowledge of the facts and laws of social life to bring about rational social aims[1]. In 1895 Henderson had coined the term "social art" for the methods by which improvements to society are and may be introduced. Social science makes predictions and social art gives directions[2].

In 1901 Henderson published an article titled "The Scope of Social Technology"[3] in which he renamed this social art as 'social technology', and described it as 'a system of conscious and purposeful organization of persons in which every actual, natural social organization finds its true place, and all factors in harmony cooperate to realize an increasing aggregate and better proportions of the "health, wealth, beauty, knowledge, sociability, and rightness" desires.' In 1923, the term social technology was given a wider meaning in the works of Ernest Burgess and Thomas D. Eliot[4][5], who defined social technology to include the application, particularly in social work, of techniques developed by psychology and other social sciences.

In 1928, Luther Lee Bernard defines "applied" science as the "collection of norms or standards, built up on the basis of observation and experiment and measurement, which is capable of serving as a means to the control of our relationships to our world or universe". He then tries to separate this from social technology saying that social technology also "includes administration as well as the determination of the norms which are to be applied in the administration"[6]. In 1935 he wrote an article called "The Place of Social Sciences in Modern Education"[7]. In this article, he writes about the nature of an effective education in the social sciences to reach effective education by the willing masses. It would be of three types: Firstly, "a description of present conditions and trends in society". Secondly, "the teaching of desirable social ends and ideals necessary to correct such social maladjustments as we now have". Thirdly, "a system of social technology which, if applied, might be expected to remedy existing maladjustments and realize valid social ends". The aspects of social technology which lags behind are the technologies involved in the "less material forms of human welfare". These are the applied sciences of "the control of crime, abolition of poverty, the raising of every normal person to economic, political, and personal competency, the art of good government, or city, rural, and national planning". On the other hand, "the best developed social technologies, such as advertising, finance, and ‘practical’ politics, are used in the main for antisocial rather than for proper humanitarian ends".

Closely related to social technology is the term social engineering. Thorstein Veblen used 'social engineering' in 1891, but appeared to take its meaning for granted, suggesting it was used earlier[8]. In the 1930's both 'social engineering' and 'social technology' became associated with the large scale socio-economic policies of the Soviet Union. The Soviet economist Yevgeni Preobrazhensky wrote a book Preobrazhensky, E. A. (1926). Novaya Ekonomika. Moscow.in which he defined social technology as "the science of organized production, organized labour, of organized systems of production relations, where the legality of economic existence is expressed in new forms." (p. 55 in the translation of 1963[9])

Karl Popper discusses social technology and social engineering in his book The Open Society and Its Enemies[10] and in the article "The Poverty of Historicism",[11] in which he criticized the Soviet political system and the marxist theory (Marxism) on which it was based. Eventually he combined "The Povery of Historicism" series in a book "The Poverty of Historicism" which he wrote "in memory of the countless men and women of all creeds or nations or races who fell victim to the fascist and communist belief in Inexorable Laws of Historical Destiny"[12]. In his book "The Open Society and Its Enemies", Popper distinguished two kinds of social engineering, and the corresponding social technology. Utopian engineering strives to reach "an ideal state, using a blueprint of society as a whole, is one which demands a strong centralized rule of a few, and which therefore is likely to lead to a dictatorship" (p. 159). Communism is an example of utopian social Technology. On the other hand, there is the piecemeal engineer with its corresponding social technology, which adopts "the method of searching for, and fighting against, the greatest and most urgent evils of society, rather than searching for, and fighting for, its greatest ultimate good" (p. 158). The use of piecemeal social technology is crucial for democratic social reconstruction.

After the Second World War, the term 'social technology' continued to be used intermittently, for example by the social psychologist Dorwin Cartwright for techniques developed in the science of group dynamics such as 'buzz groups' and role playing[13] and by Olaf Helmer to refer to the Delphi technique for creating a consensus opinion in a panel of experts[14] More recent examples are Human rights & social technology by Rainer Knopff and Tom Flanagan[15] which addresses both human rights and government policies which ensure them[citation needed] and Theodore Caplow's Perverse incentives: the neglect of social technology in the public sector[16] which discusses a wide range of topics, including use of the death penalty to discourage crime and the welfare system to provide for the needy.[citation needed]

'Social technology' is also used to refer to the organization and management of private companies, and is sometimes taught under the auspices of university business schools. One book with this orientation is The social technology of organization development, by Warner and Hornstein.

Related to "social software"

"Social technology" has also been used as a synonym for "social software", such as in the book Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies, by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff.[18] Jennifer Aaker teaches a course on The power of social technology [1] at Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Back to top Go down
View user profile
mike lewis

Posts : 190
Join date : 2012-03-22

PostSubject: Re: Social and Political Engineering   Sat 03 Nov 2012, 6:29 pm

In philosophy and the social sciences, social software is an interdisciplinary research program that borrows mathematical tools and techniques from game theory and computer science in order to analyze and design social procedures. The goals of research in this field are modeling social situations, developing theories of correctness, and designing social procedures.[1]

Work under the term social software has been going on since about 1996, and conferences in Copenhagen, London, Utrecht and New York, have been partly or wholly devoted to it. Much of the work is carried out at the City University of New York under the leadership of Rohit Jivanlal Parikh, who was influential in the development of the field.

Goals and tools of social software

Current research in the area of social software include the analysis of social procedures and examination of them for fairness, appropriateness, correctness and efficiency.

Other principles which are considered by researchers in social software include the concept that a procedure for fair division should be Pareto optimal, equitable and envy free.

What is new in social software compared to older fields is the use of tools from computer science like program logic, analysis of algorithms and epistemic logic. Like programs, social procedures dovetail into each other.
Back to top Go down
View user profile
mike lewis

Posts : 190
Join date : 2012-03-22

PostSubject: Re: Social and Political Engineering   Sat 03 Nov 2012, 6:31 pm

Social procedure

The term Social Procedure is sometimes applied to any of the procedures carried out by people in various areas of society, such as legislative assemblies, judicial systems, and resource arbiters, such as banks or other lending organizations. It has been described as Social software (social procedure) and indeed does resemble software.

Social procedures include as a subset procedures which are at the foundation of our society, such as Procedural Law. Similarly many social procedures are explicitly designed to ensure fair treatment to individuals or corporations, as official records of parliamentary debates show.

Multiple social procedures can serve to achieve the same end. Justice, as an example, in the U.S. achieved through the use of 2 adversarial lawyers, a neutral judge, and a jury of peers. In Canada the judge is less neutral. This subtle difference in programming has an effect on the justice outcome.

Though game theory is a highly technical subject with no special attention to sports, an example of a social procedure designed to help make a sporting system more fair is the Major League Baseball Draft whereby the teams which performed the worst in the last season get the first choice of players for the new season.

There is a project called A Formal Analysis of Social Procedures underway at the Tilburg Center for Logic and Philosophy of Science (TiLPS) under the direction of Dr. E. Pacuit. [1] This interdisciplinary project looks at social procedures undertaken by rational and not-so-rational people, and the complex phenomena arising when the people involved in such producures interact.
Back to top Go down
View user profile
Sponsored content

PostSubject: Re: Social and Political Engineering   

Back to top Go down
Social and Political Engineering
View previous topic View next topic Back to top 
Page 1 of 1
 Similar topics
» Obama cannot guarantee that social security checks will go out on August 3rd
» Senior Political figure will be outed TONIGHT on BBC
» The failure of social democracy?

Permissions in this forum:You cannot reply to topics in this forum
WWWS :: Main Forums :: Social Systems-
Jump to: