"It’s reasonable, for example, for a corporation to ponder who would be the best CEO or COO, but it’s not reasonable for us to expect that we could take any one of those actors and replace them with another person and get dramatically different results without changing the structures, incentives and forces that shape how they and their companies act in this world."

Zeynep Tüfekçi is dropping 🔥 through a most unexpected angle: Game of Thrones.


‘“Unhappy is the land that breeds no hero.”
“Unhappy is the land that needs a hero.”’

“Well-run societies don’t need heroes, and the way to keep terrible impulses in check isn’t to dethrone antiheros and replace them with good people. Unfortunately, most of our storytelling—in fiction and also in mass media nonfiction—remains stuck in the hero/antihero narrative.”

These are the money observations near the end. The media studies analysis earlier in the piece is also very interesting.

“In sociological storytelling, the characters have personal stories and agency, of course, but those are also greatly shaped by institutions and events around them. The incentives for characters’ behavior come noticeably from these external forces, too, and even strongly influence their inner life. … The overly personal mode of storytelling or analysis leaves us bereft of deeper comprehension of events and history.”

"The hallmark of sociological storytelling is if it can encourage us to put ourselves in the place of any character, not just the main hero/heroine, and imagine ourselves making similar choices."

What other works of sociological storytelling are recommended?

I absolutely love sociological storytelling, though today's the first time I've heard the phrase. I often tell people "Yeah you gotta check out X! The society-building is amazing! Just ignore the parts about the characters."

Naomi 's "Spinning Silver" novel blew me away on the strength of its sociological storytelling—not just worldbuilding but showing how social parameters configure individuals' universe of options, even if a character's final response is creative and out-of-the-box.

I was vaguely aware that she was doing some very funny things with the tsar, and some clever things with the ice dude, but idgaf about that shit.

The choices for women. For Jews. The shackles of society. Give me more of that.

Yeah. Sociological storytelling.

I probably won't read Game of Thrones, and I loved The Wire—this interview with David Simon about the heinous atrocities visited upon Baltimore's black neighborhoods by then-mayor Martin O'Malley has shaped my views on how racism tactically ruins the oppressed and the oppressors:


But other than those two, what other sociological storytelling epics, in which mediums, are out there?

Tolstoy? Titus Livy? Emma manga?

I don’t particularly care for your unique characters in unique circumstances.

I want to taste your society’s fabric.

How frequently your garbage is collected. How you far you go to get food. Who tells you what to do. How much do you pay in taxes. How often is the tax man replaced. How do you raise capital for an uncertain venture.


Whom can you insult. Whom can’t you. What happens when you do anyway. What techniques are you taught as children to deal with insults—wanting to make them and then receiving them.

@22 What you say in this series of posts chimes in with something I've been feeling deeply about for a long time: individuals don't make history. This I feel is particularly true for science and progress. It is my contention that one the one hand, the people who made the "great inventions" (e.g. Einstein) were not working in a vacuum (Lorentz, Fitzgerald, Ricci, ...), and also, more crucially, if they had not been there, someone else would have invented something equally important.

@22 A bit like Iain Banks said, it's a not a tech ladder, it's more like a tech face with many possible paths to an equivalent level. And that is not just for tech, but also for science and art. I'm not saying Bach, Dostoevsky or Einstein did not do great work, but that there would have been equally great work if they had not been there. I believe it's the same for "leaders". They arise by accident and shape history by dint of their position.

@22 But like you point out, the society in which they are embedded is most likely a stronger factor in the outcome than their individual personalities.

@wim_v12e Thomas Kuhn’s famous book *Structure of scientific revolutions* has remained on my shelf (recently in audiobook, I have no reason not to finish it now!) for years because it makes just that argument very well in its opening pages. Kuhn was trained as a physicist and he talks about how hard it is to say who “invented” this or that theory or how they were different from those who “invented” other now-discredited theories, and those difficulties in what should be easy led to his book.

@22 That sounds like a book I should read too.
For me personally, as a scientist, there is an important motivational side to this view.
Most scientists are entirely invisible, our publications are cited infrequently, the public does not know us, and our peers don't look up to us. It is sometimes tempting to say, given that state of affairs, why am I still doing science, if my work is irrelevant.

@22 Whereas I claim that it is is the many anonymous scientists working in a given field that cause the advancement in the field, rather than the few "stars". Maybe my individual contribution per se does not matter, but the fact that I did make it helped to advance the field, a bit like the electrons in a semiconductor if you will.

@wim_v12e I think scientists though are not uniquely afflicted by this right, I can imagine even teachers or social workers who do help individuals still making very similar statements. Kuhn may help deal with this feeling, since he spends some time talking about the cementing of a dominant paradigm as done by many hardworking researchers.

I for one appreciate your commitment to science!

@22 To the extent that their individual contribution does not matter, it is indeed the same for teachers etc. But the difference is that research is extremely competitive, which encourages this view of the importance of the individual researcher, even at the expense of the others. That is not the case with teaching.

@22 Anyway, thanks for your appreciation. "Commitment" is a strong word for doing something I enjoy doing 🙂

Sign in to participate in the conversation

The social network of the future: No ads, no corporate surveillance, ethical design, and decentralization! Own your data with Mastodon!