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Supervenience in socio-economic systems


  • Mark W. Neal


Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to clarify issues concerning the implications and usefulness of the concept of supervenience in social analysis and research. Design/methodology/approach - Supervenience refers to the notion that interaction in complex systems gives rise to superordinate phenomena, possessing qualities that differ from those of the interacting entities “below”. In order to discuss the application of the concept in sociology, the article draws upon the distinction between “weak” and “strong” supervenience. “Weak” supervenience characterizes the superordinate as being independent of any particular patterning at subordinate levels, while “strong” supervenience refers to the existence of tighter, more knowable, relationships between the super- and sub-ordinate. Findings - The paper finds that analyses of the social have long been preoccupied with supervenient properties. Indeed, sociological disciplines can be usefully characterized and distinguished in terms of whether they assume “weak” or “strong” supervenience in their analysis of human affairs. Research limitations/implications - The research needs further critical investigation of the use of supervenience in current sociological discourse and analysis. Practical implications - Through discussing its already important place in social analysis, the article argues for the refinement and critical application of supervenience in future social studies. Originality/value - The paper reviews and refines issues concerning the importance and implications of supervenience for sociological analysis and social research.

Suggested Citation

  • Mark W. Neal, 2009. "Supervenience in socio-economic systems," Humanomics: The International Journal of Systems and Ethics, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 25(3), pages 197-203, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:eme:humpps:v:25:y:2009:i:3:p:197-203

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    Social action; Sociology; Reality;


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