John Levi Martin

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Martin, John Levi. 2000. What do Animals Do All day?: The division of labor, class bodies, and totemic thinking in the popular imagination. Poetics 27(2-3): 195-231.


Weil, in his appendix to Lévi-Strauss (1949), saw as a systems conception of kinship the links between families produced by the marriages that produce families, i.e., kinship as structured at two levels: exchange between families ordered by rules or strategies of marriage, and nuclear roles within each family also related to interfamily roles. This two level systems view of Weil accompanied the core network insight of Lévi-Strauss (see White and Johansen 2005: Chapter 4). A network in which a node at one level may represent a network of relations at the next level is what mathematician and graph theorist Harary (Harary and Batell 1981) called a system. Harary and White (1997) provide a formalization of this approach for kinship systems. One advantage is that a simple bicomponent of the network, among families, defines structural endogamy (Brudner and White 1997).

  • Brudner, Lilyan A., and Douglas R. White. 1997 "Class, Property and Structural Endogamy: Visualizing Networked Histories". Theory and Society 25:161-208.
  • Harary, Frank, and Douglas R. White. 1997. P-Systems: a structural model for kinship studies. Connections 24(2):22-33.

Martin (2009:14fn18) misunderstands the Weil and Harary-White formalisms by confusing networks as systems (networks within nodes) with taking the relations (e.g., marriages) as the nodes. The Weil-Harary-White formalism does not consider the interaction between husband and wife as a node but as a unit, i.e., the family unit starting with marriage and produced by marriage. In a kinship system there are two levels – one a network of families in which there may be a characteristic structured and to, drilling down into families, the interindividual intrafamily networks within family units. Francophone anthropologists contributing to Kinsources have bridged the gap between methodological individualism – using normal genealogical graphs with gendered individuals – but computing cycles of marital cohesion in kinship networks by ignoring cohesion within nuclear families (Hamberger, Houseman, and White 2010).


Martin, John Levi. 2001. On the Limits of Sociological Theory Philosophy of the Social Sciences 31:187-233.

"For Simmel, society itself is the set of permanent interactions, “crystallized as definable, consistent structures”; that is institutions, plus less noticed forms that flesh out the picture. These forms are the “crystallized” residues of life, structures that remain even after the feeling or reason that gave rise to them is gone. “As they crystallize they attain their own existence and their own laws, and may even confront spontaneous interaction itself.” This was perhaps Simmel’s chief theme, namely that society is the reification of interaction." p. 187

Simmel, Georg. 1950 (orig. 1917) Fundamental Problems of Sociology (Grundfragen der Soziologie, 1917, Translated by Kurt Wolff ) 1950:10.“The large systems and super-individual organizations that customarily come to mind when we think of society are nothing but immediate interactions that occur among men constantly, every minute, but that have become crystallized as permanent fields, as autonomous phenomena. As they crystalize, they attain their own existence and their own laws, and may even confront spontaneous interaction itself.”

Google: "John Levi Martin"+crystallize "The large systems and super-individual organizations that customarily come to mind when we think of society are nothing but immediate interactions that occur among men constantly, every minute, but that have become crystallized as permanent fields, as autonomous phenomena. As they crystalize, they attain their own existence and their own laws, and may even confront spontaneous interaction itself." (Wolff 1950: 10). (Simmel Fundamental Problems of Sociology


Other references

Murray S. Davis. 1997. Georg Simmel and Erving Goffman: Legitimators of the Sociological Investigation of Human Experience. Qualitative Sociology 20(3):369-388.

By originating and developing the sociological investigation of human experience, Georg Simmel and Erving Goffman have shifted social phenomena at the edge of awareness to the center of attention, and have legitimated their study for contemporary sociologists. Both Simmel and Goffman describe these subtle social phenomena by distinguishing their perceptual boundaries and crossover elements, pointing out their common features when their statuses differ, and reversing their traditional location in means-end and cause-effect chains. But Durkheim's influence on Goffman's basic conceptions of interaction, individual, and society differentiated his interpretation of these social phenomena from Simmel's. Moreover, Simmel's and Goffman's explanations of these social phenomena evolve in different directions, revealing the antithetical goals toward which spiritual transcendental Simmelians and cynical reductive Goffmanians would lead sociology.

Martin, John Levi. 2009. Social Structures. Princeton University Press. $39.50 hardback - $29 Canadian

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
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.


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
"One of the most ambitious books I have read in years. Drawing on numerous examples across various domains and from around the world, it showcases the complex manner whereby the formal features of different kinds of relations generate different institutionalized types of social structures. A brilliant mind in action, John Levi Martin takes us one step closer to Simmel's vision of a 'social geometry.'"--Eviatar Zerubavel, Rutgers University, author of Social Mindscapes: An Invitation to Cognitive Sociology and Time Maps: Collective Memory and the Social Shape of the Past
"Social Structures does a superlative job at cutting a first path through jungle-like thickets of empirical detail--there is a phenomenal amount of labor represented here. The path thus cut opens possibilities for significant cross-fertilization across different strands of structural sociology, and valuably extends structural sociology to other major areas. The book makes important sociological contributions. It offers a magnificent foundation on which others may build."--Scott A. Boorman, Yale University.
"This is a tremendously impressive and deeply intriguing book about localized network configurations, the rules they follow, and the way in which those configurations are caught up in processes of nation-building. The scholarship is expansive yet engagingly idiosyncratic. This is a much-needed book."--David Gibson, University of Pennsylvania
"This is an ambitious book that identifies the key structural building blocks of social life. Anyone seriously interested in how social relations structure individual behavior (and vice versa) must be familiar with the theoretical orientation of this book and the general substantive terrain it covers. This is a wonderful book to read, to learn from, and to teach with."--Katherine Stovel, University of Washington