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How theories can become self fulfilling… January 29, 2007

Posted by Janine in Cases, theory.

As the only grad student in this class, I have been issued additional documents for the course that I hope to understand, learn from, and then share with everyone else. 

The first paper that I read is entitled: ” Economics language and assumptions: how theories can become self-fulfilling”. In  this paper, the authors discuss how theories within social sciences, particularly ecomonics, can become reality without actually being truth.  They explain this idea through different dimensions, insititutional design, social norms, and language.  Witihin institutional design, the authors note that “theories can become self-fulfilling when…organizational arrangements-structures, reward systems, measurement practices, selection processes- reflect the explicit or implicit theories of their designers…”  That is to say, when organizational leaders want their employees to adhere to a particular structure, design, or behavior, these leaders must reinforce such behavior and thoughts that are in accordance with the particular theory they agree upon.

 When it comes to social norms, the authors state that people will act and speak as though a theory is true, because “to do otherwise is to violate a powerful descriptive and prescriptive expectation.”  When the expectation is to think and act a certain way, most people will act in accordance with what is expected of them.  Along with the reinforcement they receieve from their leaders, individuals can and will begin to look at these expectations as the “norm.”

 Finally, the authors explain how language can also make theories self-fulfilling.  Language provides the framework that guides how we comprehend the world.  It “affects what people see, how they see it, and the social categories and descriptions they use to interpret their reality.”  Therefore, the way in which language fulfulls certain theories is through interpretation.  How one interprets and understands the theory, how they understand the language used to describe the interpretation can ultimately affect the validity of it.

I give the authors credit.  Their paper is well-researched. They give plenty of examples and quotes from numerous professionals that seem to support their stance. I am curious to hear what some of you think about these explanations. 



1. Jordi - January 30, 2007

Janine, this is a very through review.

Do you remember some of the memorable research they drew on?

Do you think the way our textbook presents some ideas is setting up self-fulfilling theories?

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