Social engineering (political science)

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This article is about influencing society on a large scale. For use as an information security concept, see Social engineering (security).

Social engineering is a discipline in social science that refers to efforts to influence popular attitudes and social behaviors on a large scale, whether by governments, media or private groups. Social Engineering can also be understood philosophically as a deterministic phenomenon. As Dr. R. D. Ingthorsson alluded to, a human being is a biological creature from birth but is from then on shaped as a person through social influences (upbringing/socialisation) and is in that sense a social construction.

A social engineer is one who tries to influence popular attitudes, social behaviors, and resource management on a large scale. Social engineering is the application of the scientific method for social concern. Social engineers use the methods of science to analyze and understand social systems, so as to arrive at appropriate decisions as scientists, and not as politicians. In the political arena, the counterpart of social engineering is political engineering.

Decision-making can affect the safety and survival of literally billions of people. As expressed by German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies in his study The Present Problems of Social Structure,[1] society can no longer operate successfully using outmoded methods of social management. To achieve the best outcomes, all conclusions and decisions must use the most advanced techniques and include reliable statistical data, which can be applied to a social system. In other words, social engineering is a data-based scientific system used to develop a sustainable design so as to achieve the intelligent management of Earth’s resources with the highest levels of freedom, prosperity, and happiness within a population.

For various reasons, the term has been imbued with negative connotations. However, virtually all law and governance has the effect of seeking to change behavior and could be considered "social engineering" to some extent. Prohibitions on murder, rape, suicide and littering are all policies aimed at discouraging undesirable behaviors. In British and Canadian jurisprudence, changing public attitudes about a behaviour is accepted as one of the key functions of laws prohibiting it. Governments also influence behavior more subtly through incentives and disincentives built into economic policy and tax policy, for instance, and have done so for centuries.

History[edit]

The term sociale ingenieurs was introduced in an essay by the Dutch industrialist J.C. Van Marken in 1894. The idea was that modern employers needed the assistance of specialists—"social engineers"—in handling the human problems of the planet, just as they needed technical expertise (ordinary engineers) to deal with the problems of dead matter (materials, machines, processes). The term was brought to America in 1899, when the notion of "social engineering" was also launched as the name of the task of the social engineer in this sense. "Social engineering" was the title of a small journal in 1899 (from 1900 named "Social Service"), and in 1909 the title of a book by its former editor, William H. Tolman (translated in French in 1910), marking the end of the usage of the terminology in the sense of Van Marken. With the Social Gospel sociologist Edwin L. Earp's The Social Engineer, published during the "efficiency craze" of 1911 in the U.S., the usage of the term was launched that has since then been standard: the one building on a metaphor of social relations as "machineries",[2] to be dealt with in the manner of the technical engineer.[3]

Before one can engage in social engineering, one must have reliable information about the society that is to be engineered and effective tools to carry out the engineering. Both of these became available only relatively recently: roughly within the past one hundred years.

While social engineering can be carried out by any organization. whether large or small, public or private, the most comprehensive (and often the most effective) campaigns of social engineering are those initiated by powerful central governments.

Extremely intensive social engineering campaigns occurred in countries with authoritarian governments. In the 1920s, the government of the Soviet Union embarked on a campaign to fundamentally alter the behavior and ideals of Soviet citizens, to replace the old social frameworks of Tsarist Russia with a new Soviet culture, to create the New Soviet man. The Soviets used newspapers, books, film, mass relocations, and even architectural design tactics to serve as "social condenser" and change personal values and private relationships. Similar examples are the Chinese "Great Leap Forward" and "Cultural Revolution" program and the Khmer Rouge's plan of deurbanization of Cambodia. In Singapore, the government's housing policies attempt to promote a mix of all races within each subsidized housing district in order to foster social cohesion and national loyalty while providing citizens with affordable housing.[citation needed] In Tanzania in the 1970s, the government pursued a policy of enforced villagisation under Operation Vijiji in order to promote collective farming.[4]

Non-authoritarian regimes tend to rely on more sustained social engineering campaigns that create more gradual, but ultimately far-reaching, change. Examples include the "War on Drugs" in the United States, the increasing reach of intellectual property rights and copyright, and the promotion of elections as a political tool. The campaign for promoting elections, which is by far the most successful of the three examples, has been in place for over two centuries. Social theorists of the Frankfurt School in Weimar Germany like Theodor Adorno had also observed the new phenomenon of mass culture and commented on its new manipulative power, when the rise of the Nazis drove them out of the country around 1930 (many of them became connected with the Institute for Social Research in the United States). The Nazis themselves were no strangers to the idea of influencing political attitudes and redefining personal relationships. The Nazi propaganda machine under Joseph Goebbels was a synchronized, sophisticated and effective tool for creating public opinion.

In a similar vein the Greek military junta of 1967–1974 attempted to steer Greek public opinion not only by propaganda but also by inventing new words and slogans such as palaiokommatismos (old-partyism), Ellas Ellinon Christianon (Greece of Christian Greeks), and Ethnosotirios Epanastasis (nation-saving revolution, meaning coup d'état).

Social engineering can be used as a means to achieve a wide variety of different results, as illustrated by the different governments and other organizations that have employed it. The discussion of the possibilities for such manipulation became especially active following World War II, with the advent of television, and continuing discussion of techniques of social engineering, particularly in advertising, is still quite pertinent in the western model of consumer capitalism.

Karl Popper[edit]

In his classic political science book, The Open Society and Its Enemies, volume I, The Spell of Plato, Karl Popper examined the application of the critical and rational methods of science to the problems of the open society. In this respect, he made a crucial distinction between the principles of democratic social engineering (what he called "piecemeal social engineering") and Utopian social engineering.

Popper wrote:

the piecemeal engineer will adopt the method of searching for, and fighting against, the greatest and most urgent evil of society, rather than searching for, and fighting for, its greatest ultimate good.[5]

According to Popper, the difference between "piecemeal social engineering" and "Utopian social engineering" is:

the difference between a reasonable only method of improving matters which has so far been really successful, at any time, and in any place, and a method which, wherever it has been tried, has led only to the use of violence in place of reason, and if not to its own abandonment, at any rate to that of its original blueprint.[5]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ The American Journal of Sociology, vol. 10, 1905, no. 5, p. 569–688
  2. ^ Östlund, David (1894–1910). "A knower and friend of human beings, not machines: The business career of the terminology of social engineering". Ideas in History, 2007:2. 
  3. ^ [1][dead link]
  4. ^ Lange, Siri. (2008) Land Tenure and Mining In Tanzania. Bergen: Chr. Michelson Institute, p. 2.
  5. ^ a b Popper, K. 1971 The Open Society and Its Enemies Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press

Further reading[edit]