When Strangers Cooperate: Using Social Conventions to Govern Ourselves

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Free Press, 1995 - Social Science - 214 pages
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When Strangers Cooperate - a classic example of the humanistic sociological essay - is the first book to examine and explore the largely unconscious operation of social conventions. Management professor and former government official David W. Brown explains that conventions evolve in diverse ways, from the seemingly random and spontaneous (pedestrians crossing a busy street), to those crafted to address unfulfilled needs (self-help groups), to rules established by central authority (bans on public smoking). Brown argues that American society is stubbornly resistant to establishing permanent new conventions; the ideology of "rugged individualism" and a marked tendency to "pass the buck", he believes, damage our ability to create the sort of flexible, organic customs that could potentially mitigate a wide range of serious social problems. Since so many of these crises result from a breakdown of established conventions, Brown contends that we must make a self-conscious effort to promote and fortify voluntary social arrangements. Brown casts a wide net, giving recommendations of how unwritten conventions can reform society in myriad ways: taking back urban streets with different forms of community policing; strengthening families by modifying work arrangements - for example, encouraging telecommuting; rebuilding crumbling public education with a renewed emphasis on collaborative learning and teamwork. At a time when government seems able only to accomplish less while consuming ever more resources - with the result that public faith in government is at an all-time low - Brown provides new groundwork for addressing our most intractable social problems.

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WHEN STRANGERS COOPERATE: Using Social Conventions to Govern Ourselves

User Review  - Jane Doe - Kirkus

A mundane sociological essay examining the nature of social conventions. Brown, formerly of the Yale School of Management, describes conventions as unspoken agreements that make cooperation possible ... Read full review


When Strangers Cooperate
How Footpaths Get Started
Its a Free Country

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About the author (1995)

Brown practices law in Monterey, California. He is a graduate of Stanford University (chemistry) and the University of Santa Clara College of Law. He teaches law at the Monterey College of Law.

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