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Neil Joseph Smelser (born July 22, 1930, Kahoka, Missouri) is an emeritus professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. He was an active researcher from 1958 to 1994. His research has been on collective behavior.
He received his undergraduate degree from Harvard University in 1952. From 1952-54, he was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University where he studied economics, philosophy, and politics. At 24, he co-authored Economy and Society with Talcott Parsons. He earned his Ph.D in sociology from Harvard in 1958, and was a junior fellow of the Society of Fellows. He was the fifth director of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences from 1994-2001. He retired in 1994 and is now an emeritus professor.
His value added theory (or strain theory) argued that six elements were necessary for a particular kind of collective behaviour to emerge:
- Structural conduciveness - things that make or allow certain behaviors possible (e.g. spatial proximity)
- Structural strain - something (inequality, injustice) must strain society
- Generalized belief - explanation; participants have to come to an understanding of what the problem is
- Precipitating factors - spark to ignite the flame
- Mobilization for action - people need to become organized
- Failure of social control - how the authorities react (or don't)
- Swedberg, Richard, Economics and Sociology: Redefining Their Boundaries: Conversations with Economists and Sociologists, Princeton University Press 1990.
- Sullivan, T.J., Thompson, K.S. (1986), "Collective Behaviour and Social Change" in Sociology: Concepts, Issues and Applications, Chapter 12. MacMillan, New York.
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