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Top photo: African Art for sale at Trader Joe's Flea Market, Santa Fe, New Mexico, Summer 1997
Credit: Paul Stoller

Bottom photo: A Ward Counselor solicits and documents a political contribution from a village headman to enable the constituency to send representatives to the national Zambian UNIP (United National Independence Party) convention. Central Luangwa Valley, 1973.
Credit: Stuart A. Marks, Mipashi Associates

How Do Social Institutions Develop?
How do social institutions develop and change, especially economic, legal, political and scientific? What role do ethics and values play in science and technology issues?

Our established customs, behaviors and practices are known as institutions. Often, institutions have interacting and interdependent dimensions -- those we call "systems." Because institutions are the ways societies structure themselves, they are fruitful areas for scientific study. Especially important are the following.

  • Economic institutions. This is not just about money, but also about the jobs people hold and the way they work. In the global economic system, far-flung events can have surprising results close to home. An understanding of small- to global-scale economic workings helps to cope with -- or take advantage of -- the effects and changes at all scales.
  • Legal institutions. Scientists help us understand the impact of laws on people and on society; human behavior (including criminal behavior) and interactions related to legal systems; the dynamics of legal decision-making; and why and how legal institutions change.
  • Political institutions. Government and political processes include the workings of democracy, especially in the United States but also in the world. Political changes touch all of us and research studies using scientific data and tools, increase our understanding of these processes and their impacts.
  • Scientific institutions. Scientists also study science itself, what
    scientific knowledge is and how it develops, including differences among
    various endeavors in the nature of evidence and testing of theories.
    Researchers also examine the interactions among science, technology and society, and how they change each other.

How Do People Effect Change? [Next]