Τμήμα Κοινωνιολογίας , Πανεπιστήμιο Αιγαίου

Sociological Practice and the Sociotechnics of Governance

Kjeld Hogsbro (Institute of Local Government Studies, Denmark), , Hans Pruijt(Erasmus University, Netherlands). Nikita Pokrovsky (State University—Higher School of Economics, Russia), George O. Tsobanoglou, PhD (Aegean University, Greece)

In Ann Dennis, Deborah Kallekin (eds.), The ISA Handbook on Contemporary Sociology, Sage Studies in International Sociology, 2009



Since Weber outlined the role of sociology in a modern world, we have passed through various stages and traditions of social engineering, top-down governance of social processes, bottom-up strategies and empowerment strategies. Since its inception in the late 1970s, the Research Committee on Sociotechnics has been the host of the continued discussion about the relation between sociology and practiced social technologies on a local, national and global level. The article will analyze these discussions and their links to the discourses of governance, social problems and organisation as developed during the past thirty years. In the light of these discussions the article offers a sketch of the general requirements for a practical sociology in the age of globalisation.


Sociological Practice and the Sociotechnics of Governance.¨




In many fields of practice (such as the organization of work, industrial relations, economic development, housing, social services, public administration, public safety, conflict resolution, anti-poverty policy, health care) the emphasis on top-down control for a long time repressed interaction-centered paradigms. But in the last twenty years a greater emphasis has been put on bottom-up programs, user’s participation and developmental programs mobilizing actors in civil society. Driving forces behind this swing are varied and include: demands for autonomy, disillusionment with inefficient centralized bureaucracy, and the neo-liberalistic agenda of curtailing the redistributive functions of the state. As a result, many professionals have become - in their own ways - experts in stimulating, structuring and managing interaction. Intellectual entrepreneurs such as management gurus and political ideologues offer concepts, models and advice. The goal of this paper is to examine the possible role for sociology, as policy and practice, in this field of intervention. The point of departure is the debate on "sociotechnics", which was driven by the bold proposition of a unique, universal, systematic, scientific method for intervention based on citizen driven humanistic values. We will trace how and why this vision tended to give way to practical, contextually dependent approaches. Then we will introduce a perspective that puts sociological theory and practice in an “inter-textual relation” to discourses of governance as they appear on the global theater. Finally we will draw some conclusions from this history as regards the demands to a practical sociology in a globalised world.



From Sociotechnics to Sociological Practice


In 1966, Polish sociologist Adam Podgorecki set out to develop sociotechnics as an applied social science that was non-ideological but would have the capability of unmasking the communist regime's social engineering stratagems (Alexander and Schmidt 1996). In the 1970s he went on developing the ISA Research Committee 26 on Sociotechnics. Within the newsletter of this research committee from 1978 to 1990, the discussion aimed at developing and promoting a paradigm for sociotechnics which could serve as an alternative to top-down social engineering traditions. This was not done without problems. Sociotechnics, as a key concept, is sometimes used to label concrete forms of social intervention (mostly in a political context) and sometimes to label an academic discipline studying different forms of social praxis and governmental strategies (ibid). The point seems to be that it is both. But above all, it is thought to be an analytic discipline producing results in the form of recommendations:


One may understand “sociotechnics” as an applied social science that may be defined as a set of methods of engineering social action. It provides intended social aims and goals with elaborations of frames of references as well as effective ways and means for their realization, relying in its operation solely on verified or verifiable propositions that describe and explain relevant social behaviour. (Podgorecki and Schmidt 1977a: 8)


In its ambition of being a critical discipline analysing contemporary social policy, legislation, mass media, management etc. and at the same time producing concepts and guidelines for social praxis, action and development, sociotechnics was supposed to tap upon many different sources of sociological theory. In their book, Multi-Dimensional Sociology, Podgorecki and Los (1979) profiled a sociology that appreciated its own riches and combined various theoretical

perspectives and levels of analysis, based on systematic scrutiny of their epistemological and ontological assumptions and implications. In this perspective, meaningful differences were turned into cognitive opportunities enabling fuller explanation of complex human societies. The multi-dimensional sociology represented a multileveled methodological and conceptual framework designed to help researchers “to grasp more comprehensively the variety of faces of social reality” ( Podgorecki and Los 1979: 332). The authors emphasized the importance of scrutinizing ideological dimensions of various contemporary sociological traditions by studying the social conditions surrounding their development, success and failure in particular socio-political contexts. They believed that through this awareness and reflexive multidimensionality, their proposed approached would resist “ideological appropriation by one group or one type of political system. It would actually pose problems for any group looking for one-sided yet “convincing” ideas in order to elevate their political programmes to status of “science”(Los 1979: 136).


A pragmatic application of multi-dimensional sociology was to be based on a philosophy that required analysing and social issues based on simultaneous engaged with different levels of levels of social reality. It also involved development of a “global ethics” that expanded humanistic ethical concerns to include all living creatures and their shared environment(Podgorecki 1979: 319-30). Later contributions to the overall paradigm of sociological practice have had the same quest for a multidimensional approach (see, for example, Fritz 1991, Turner 2001).


Podgorecki’s definition of sociotechnics built on Popper's (1957) distinction between, on the one hand, utopian social engineering that was driven by an inevitable elusive vision of the ideal society and was bound to have disastrous consequences, and, on the other hand, piecemeal social engineering, which proceeded by identifying social evils and responding to these by cautious, reversible reform. It took the form of an elaborate framework of consecutive steps, the following keywords (Podgorecki 1975). (These were later developed further in Podgorecki and Shields, 1989: 15-31).


problem recognition

  • problem identification (clarification and ranking of values and goals)
  • global evaluation (initial diagnosis of cause, prognosis, teleological decision)
  • activation of the theory base (strategy, accessible options)
  • design
  • action (experiments, implementation of final plan)
  • evaluation.


An innovation in respect to an earlier framework formulated by Zetterberg (1962) was the choice to include investigation of the "relationship between the values of a client, a sponsor, an expert and the public in general” (Podgorecki 1983: 35). Underlying the paradigm of sociotechnics was a weberian belief in modern policy as based on well-defined values and a possibility of reaching a scientifically based consensus about the consequences of different strategies, and also in rational decision making as outlined by Lindblom (1968).the assumption of rational decision-making was a problematic aspect, however. Maria Los pointed-out, both a diagnostics and the range of possibilities for action were inseparably linked to politics (Los 1978: 18-25). Similarly, David Mills suggested that the significance of the manner in which political actors defined problems was being overlooked (Mills 1981).


Podgorecki himself was strongly influenced by the experiences from Poland before, during and after the breakdown of the communist regime. This transformation of the political system represented a dual development, whereby a top down social engineering tradition was confronted with a bottom up approach and, eventually, the emergence of Solidarnosc as a competing political actor. Different actors used the accumulated sociotechnical knowledge while competing sociotechnical experts were put to test by new-socio-political dynamics. Influential social actors endorsed some experts; others were promoted by their own scientific community (Podgorecki 1996). These developments reinforced Podgorecki’s belief in a socio-technical tradition that aimed at common people to advance social projects on the basis of steering capabilities of scientifically backed means. Yet, they also contributed to an appreciation of the complexities surrounding interventions in a field of actors, who have diverse understandings of the problems they address. This was made especially clear by the post-communist realities, whereby the long-suppressed ideological and other conflicts emerged with an unexpected and sometimes destructive vigour.


At the end of the 1980s we can see the contours of the following conclusions as regards the possibilities and obligations for sociologists working in the field of political recommendations and social praxis:

  1. Definitions of problems and accessible strategic solutions are defined by the societal context.
  2. Sociological practitioners are obliged to address certain ethical questions concerning the values that underlie various accessible strategies before making recommendations for interventions.
  3. Guidelines for sociological interventions are multidimensional and theoretical frameworks used must be open to different sociological theories to enlighten different aspects of social realities.
  4. It is an important task for a sociological praxis to address the issue of conflicts between different definitions of the problems and their connections to different public epistemologies.


Sociological Practice


In 1987 ISA approved the addition of the term Sociological Practice to the name of the Research Committee #26. The change was seen as “a response to the considerably increased number of scholars and practitioners engaged in various countries in developing and applying theories and methods of social policy research and utilization” (Schmidt 1987: 5). At the same time the board of the Research Committee established cooperation with the three American organisations addressing the utilization of social science, namely the Sociological Practice Section of American Sociological Association, the Association of Applied Sociology and the Clinical Sociological Association[5]. The merging process of these different initiatives was not limited to a broadened access to and interchanges among members of these organisation. From an epistemological perspective, the paradigm of sociotechnics moved away from an ambition of establishing a unique model for studying social praxis and recommendations for socially sustainable solutions to perennial questions of influence, social problems, democracy and management, to a more pragmatic position where problems and possible solutions were regarded as closely linked to the context in which they were situated. This gave a new impetus to a long-recognised need for bringing into discussion the wide range of experiences from the whole spectrum of sociological intervention. This need was recognized by Adam Podgorecki as a vital aspect of Sociotechnics, as documented first in a series of volumes edited by him in Poland and later in his publications in English, including the 1996 volume edited by him with J Alexander and R. Shields. It might be interventions in family patterns as well as political programmes. It might be the application of macro sociological theory as well as micro sociological theory.


Not only the need of a multidimensional sociology was now introduced as a basic approach to understanding sociotechnics, but also a multidimensional practice was institutionalised as the empirical point of departure. The focus was on a “problem-oriented method” which itself requires a complex, holistic approach.


As Adam Podgorecki defines the problem in 1978 (1978: 8), the “unexploited potentialities” of sociology compared to disciplines like economics, legal sciences, demography and psychology stem from four major characteristics:

  1. Sociology is not associated with a practical, non-academic profession.
  2. Sociology is much younger as an academic discipline.
  3. Sociology has no institutionalised tradition for offering advice and consultancy.
  4. Sociological associations have no tradition for generating their own diagnostics and guidelines for social intervention.


By establishing a link between sociotechnics, clinical sociology and sociological practice, the Research Committee became the host of intensive discussions linking practical sociological interventions on micro, meso and macro level to the continued development of sociological concepts and theories.


In 1991 Jan Fritz defines “clinical sociology” as “the creation of new systems as well as the intervention in existing systems for purposes of assessment and/or change. Clinical sociologists are humanistic scientists who are multidisciplinary in approach. They engage in planned social change efforts by focusing on one system level (e.g., interpersonal, community, international) but integrate different levels of focus in their work and do so from a sociological frame of reference” (Fritz 1991: 18). The distinction between clinical sociology and sociological practice were not that clear. The term Clinical sociology was first used in the 1920s to label a kind of practical medical sociology (ibid) and though the concept was soon used outside the medical domain, it still bears connotations to the concept of social pathology and is used as a cover term for sociological intervention in social problems, conflicts and interaction on a personal level, including (delinquent youth (Bility 1999), victims of sexual abuse (Disch 2001), self-help groups (Williams 2000), family interaction, organisations and conflict mediation (Fritz 2002). The broader term “Sociological Practice” is used for sociological support extended to social development on an organisational, local and national level, as is the case in community development and community action programs.


The Governmentality of Sociotechnics


Sociotechnics can be seen as part of a wider field of social action and intervention. This field can be captured by the term “governmentality”. Foucault (1978) coined this term to denote a new form of government, the origin of which he dated in the 18th century. This new form of government involves “the continual definition and redefinition of what is within the competence of the state and what is not” (Foucault 1978: 103). In other words, governmentality means how people are governed, accept to be governed and govern themselves (Tsobanoglou, 1993). Authors like Mitchel Dean (1999) distinguish different modes of governmentality, and suggest that in a given era, a certain mode of governmentality may be broadly dominant. A mode of governmentality consists of a set of specific answers to the questions “what it is to govern”, “what we are going to govern”, “how are we going to (be) govern(ed)” and “why we are going to (be) govern(ed).” Thus governmentality includes answers to epistemological, technical and ethical questions. These answers are cultural products that tend to be taken for granted by members of society (Dean, 1999: 16). When reasoning from the viewpoint of governmentality theory, the increased emphasis on interaction among subjects, apparent in all kinds of policy, should be seen as a shift towards a different mode of governmentality. Governmentality theorists have suggested that the current mode of governmentality is characterized by an emphasis on “responsible and disciplined autonomy” (Dean 1999: 153), as well as a “will to empower”, and encourage interaction among subjects (Cruickshank 1999).


A case that seems to demonstrate the pervasiveness of modes of governmentality is welfare policy. In 1980 the then Minister of Social Affairs in Denmark announced at the OECD assembly that time had come to reduce professional dominance in the whole field of social services and try to mobilise social networks of disabled individuals (Bjerregaard 1980). Though she belonged to the Social Democratic Party, Ritt Bjerregaard became one of the first politicians who challenged the social engineering project that had dominated the Nordic model of Welfare “governmentality” since the 1960’s. Following the 1982 elections in Denmark, when the neo-Conservative/neo-Liberal parties replaced the Social Democratic government, the focus shifted to:

  • decentralisation of influence and decision-making
  • a rehabilitation of voluntary social work
  • social networks and community as explanatory factors for understanding social problems.


In the USA the situation was very similar, when the Reagan administration took over and applied a right wing, voluntarist agenda to the concept of the welfare system, challenging the hegemony of “The Great Society Programme” of the 1960s. Though the former Danish Social Democratic Minister of Social Affairs, Ritt Bjerregaard, would never identify herself with right-wing American policy, her attack on the professionals-bureaucrats of the social welfare system was linked to the same discourse. Looking at “the governmentality of the welfare state” discourses, we can follow a transformation of the social engineering discursive practice from focussing solely on structural reasons for poverty to focussing on the responsibility of the individual actor. This transformation took place within political parties that occupied opposite positions on the political arena. As such, it represents a profound change in the general governance discourse of the western welfare states. In this way the post-Reagan USA gained a leading global role in formulating the new welfare agenda a role, it had never had before (Prince 2001).


Already in the 1960s, neo-Conservatives in the USA combined economic liberalism with an emphasis on morality, ethics and community values (Gibson 1997). Charles Murray thought that the welfare system was actively contributing to the creation of a permanent underclass dependent on welfare benefits. This "underclass" was defined by its culture and its self-destructive behaviour (Murray 1994). In a more nuanced way, other Conservatives, like Marvin Olasky, argue that it is necessary to distinguish between "those who need a hand" and "those who need a push" (Olasky 1992). This led to the instrumentality of a "welfare to workfare" policy introduced by President Clinton in 1996 in the US (Tsobanoglou, 2002, 2004, 2006). Such policy spread to Europe as the only possible way for the Social Democrats to regain the lost political leadership. In this way the neo-Conservative emphasis on personal responsibility, morality, family values, communities and national values has effectively dominated the welfare discourse since the beginning of the 1980s (Gibson 1997). The concept of a segment of people defined by a kind of cultural inability to cope with the challenges of the modern society is widely accepted today, not least among professional helpers (Gibson 1997: 175).


The liberal democratic discourse in the USA, caught by a paradigm portrayed "antisocial acts as simply the result of structural factors" (Gibson, 1997: 191), made liberal democrats incapable of relating to the issue of morally unacceptable behaviour. They did not have an answer to the conservative focus on individual responsibility, safe communities and a shared work ethics (ibid.). Furthermore, liberal charity was running directly into a critique of being unjust when it reduced poor people to helpless victims, who had to be saved by liberal experts (ibid.). The dominant policy discourse has switched from one-sidedly blaming everything on structure to one-sidedly holding the individual accountable for all problems. This shows how political discourses can change the specific definition of the problem and the limits of accessible strategies, thus redefining what is perceived as rational solutions.


Mainstream sociology in the1980s seemed to be a part of the same change in culturally determined frames of references shifting from a focus on structural determination in the seventies to a stronger focus on the individual subject acting in a field of possibilities. This trend in sociology can be discerned in contributions from Bourdieu (1980), Habermas (1981) and Luhmann (1984). Though very different in almost all other aspects, all three approaches share the same theoretical interest in overcoming the gap between sociological macro level theory and micro level social psychology and to re-install the individual as a responsible actor not totally dependent on the structure, but confronted with the structure. The structure is not seen as a determining structure in these approaches, but more as a social field, as defined by Sartre in his Critique de la Raison Dialectique (1960/1982: 479-504, 549) and elaborated by Bourdieu (1980). This development in sociological theory took place in the same period when Liberals (Liberal Democrats) in the US and Social Democrats in Europe were loosing their grip of the dominating political discourse. The new emphasis in sociological theory corresponds with the increasing role of the acting subject that Dean (1999) and Cruikshank (1999) saw as the hallmark of the current mode of governmentality.


McLain (2002: 268) suggested a two-way relationship between sociological theory and the wider society: “From a reflexive perspective, applying sociology is a redundancy: sociologi­cal knowledge is always applied in ways that have transformative conse­quences for both sociology and society.” Sociological thinking may have an impact through the education of social workers or the general public debate and the public debate might influence the content of new sociological theory when academic sociologists try to be socially relevant or try to answer questions posed by local authorities or the public debate.


The perspective of pervasive trends in governance can help us understand the obstacles that any attempt at establishing a context-dependent applied form of sociology will face.

Interventions that unleash the unique qualities of sociology require insight into the dominant discourse on governance. One has to be able to decide whether to confront and expose it, or simply adapt to it.


Historical experience shows that sociology tends to be perceived as a threat by totalitarian or authoritarian regimes. Sociology in China was abolished between 1950 and 1979. Though the sociological tradition in China before 1950 aimed at practical innovations, the Communist Party did not want any competing academic discourse of society (Li, D 1999). When liberal economic activities were encouraged in the end of the 1970s, sociological departments were re-established as an answer to social problems following the rapidly emerging social changes (ibid.) Still the government “discourages free discourse about political ideas” so mainstream Chinese sociology has limited its attention to “social problems that confronted economic development and social stability, such as population growth, urban poverty, unemployment and crime” (ibid: 275). This development is in many ways comparable to the Soviet bloc experience (Nikitin 2001), where sociology was also suspended for a considerable period of time. As well, parallels can be drown with the European South whereby dictatorial regimes in Greece. Spain and Portugal were in control of the political process. The Madrid ISA Congress, in (1990) signalled the new renaissance in social studies in Iberia, but not in Greece where to this day law, theology, philosophy, architecture and journalism appear to play the role of substitute social sciences. 6

Sociological Intervention at Meso Level


In articles from the 1980s James March liberated himself from the “myth of rationality” in social science when addressing issues of organizations. He claimed that much of the organisational reality might better be seen as products of ongoing performance and institutionalised ways of tackling problems and pretending to be in charge. Maybe even a clarification of goals and means is not necessary in itself (March 1984 and 1988).


Engaging in intervention, for example by providing training to managers, involves entering into a discursive field that tends to be populated by concepts that have been successfully promoted by members of what has been called the "guru industry" (Collins 2000). Standard procedure in the guru industry is: identify a problem, formulate a model solution, find empirical material that to some extent supports the model, find a catchy label, and promote the model globally as the way forward. The message is: "smart players are starting to adopt the Model; do as I advise you to do and rich rewards will be yours; ignore this message and you will find yourself stranded."

Starting out from sociological knowledge, it would make a lot of sense to offer training sessions on the contrast between scientific management and sociotechnical systems design. However, this is not where the interest of managers tends to lie. In contrast, a very popular concept is team working. Part of its popularity stems from a global bestseller on the organization of production (Womack, Jones and Ross 1990). This book took up the Toyota production model, re-labeling it as "lean production" and tried to make it socially acceptable by adding (unsubstantiated) claims about dynamic teams in which workers learn and creatively apply professional skills, and held it out as the model that every company must implement. The sociologist might choose to join the ‘team working’ bandwagon, but then proceed to open up the discourse by exploring intricate dimensions of team working and developing a framework-informed by sociological debates.


Pervasive trends in governance do not preclude ambiguity due to social power struggles. The same concept often has different meanings for different people (Pruijt, 1998). Also, one is likely to encounter concepts in the field of intervention that are quite flexible. In fact, a measure of flexibility is often what helped their global diffusion by the guru industry in the first place.


Globalization, Governance and the Utopia


In the early discussions on Sociotechnics we meet references to Karl Manheim (1936), the concept of utopia is explicitly addressed and elaborated in Albert Cherns (1976: 67-77) as is done in the works of Gramsci (1971), Bloch (1965), and, later, Etzioni (2004). Yet the presence of utopian visions of more democratic organizational forms is vivid in those sociotechnical proposals that are designed to contribute to the mobilization of civil society and supports the influence of the common citizen. Sociotechnical discussions and inquiries have not been limited to predictable questions related to every day conflicts in families, and organizations or to issues of social policy. They have also raised the question of utopian ideals and the quest for feasible forms of social practices informed by these ideals. Today these discussions are inevitably linked to questions surrounding the recent trends in the globalization processes.

Globalization is one of the most frequently used terms in modern scholarly and everyday language. It has long joined the ranks of such terms as "history," "civilization," "era," "progress," "modernity," "post-modernity," and other conceptual terms which express the style and character of the public mood and consciousness of our times. The appearance and increase in anti-globalistic sentiments and movements, not just in the West but also in Russia and developing countries, have contributed to dramatization of the mass media's coveraged of globalization, influencing concerns of the general public.

The commonly accepted models of globalization are based on ideas about a united and integrated world civilization which encompasses the entire earth and near-earth space and sweeps away all kinds of borders, be they between cultures or states, in the domain of social inequality, or between time-zones and geographical regions. The world is portrayed as becoming compact, accessible, transparent and visible, with its parts linked by interdependency. This concerns economics, technology, politics, the environment, moral values, and all the other areas of interest to current humankind, including such negative phenomena as organized crime, the narco-business, terrorism, and other destructive forms of activity. The statement "the world is so small" is the epitome of this mindset. The world really is becoming small, both in the best and most threatening sense of the word.

Globalization processes are not evolving arbitrarily or at the whim of impersonal forces, but, to a large extent, through rational human efforts. These processes are permeating all social groups and institutions, transforming them both from within and from without. Globalization is also having a direct impact on the primary "cells" of human societies, small social groups of people possessing closely related values, similar social experience, and corresponding perceptions of the world. With their inner being shaped by the same historical events, members of each group experienced these events in approximately the same fashion. In the most general terms, it can be said that the social and biological stages of an individual's development are superimposed on a series of historical events and this ”results in the unique social characteristics of the ”cells”.

Therefore, as expressed in Pokrovsky’s concept of "cellular globalization" ( Pokrovsky, 2001), the ultimate meaning of globalization goes beyond processes of integration of those parts of the world community that used to be isolated and alienated from each other. According to this conceptualisation, globalization is permeating every cell, every small community, at times radically changing the nature of bassic relations between people and organizations and creating new sets of values and reference points in our everyday lives. In other words, globalization not only implies "a small world," but also a world which is essentially new in all of its modalities. And this pervasive change is often resisted as unacceptable, and sometimes gives rise to direct protest by those who are not ready to embrace the birth of a new system with all its unpredictable and unstudied characteristics. This is the way it has always been in the past whenever a civilization crossed a threshold in its development, passing from one moment of history to another.


The concept of cellular globalization helps to appreciate a number of important developments, such as:


· A tendency toward material consumerism,

· A constant narrowing of the social interest,

· The requirements of flexibility, expressed in the ability to adapt to unpredictable social changes,

· A tendency towards virtualization, understood as, often unconscious, entry into the world of "simulacres" (artificial mythological structures) that do not have any direct bearing on the objective reality,

· Dislocation of moral issues, compartmentalization of traditional functions of moral consciousness, and the spread of anomie, understood as disintegration of basic values, and increased vagueness with respect to what is considered right and wrong,

· The prelevance of superciality, disappearance of cultural demands, departure from classical cultural heritage and national traditions, as well as the willingness to make use and disseminate cultural ersatz.


The world system is moving towards a situation often described as “glocalisation”. Both individuals and local communities are influenced by international discourses and they are active in the implementation of these discourses into local cultural contexts. With the help of negotiations, global governance acts in an organisational field of local actors. At its most effective, it acts through reflexive, responsive processes, forming an institutional milieu of relative consensus and collaboration on the basis of local values (OECD, 2001). This can be done with respect to international contracts and projects. In this situation, governance often aims at increasing the competitiveness of the give region in the international arena. This process creates new challenges and new fields of inquiry and practice for sociotechnics (Guba and Lincoln 1989).


An unusual symbiosis between global and traditional trends at a cellular level is occurring in many countries, which gives every national situation its own special flair and meaning. Some crisis-stricken society, such as Russia, actually find a relative stabilasation through integration into world processes. In this sense, Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) societies are influenced by these trends to a greater extent than the traditional relatively stable western societies and are acting as a kind of probing ground for trends that will only fully manifest themselves globally in the future. While globalisation opens new opportunities, it also generates new threats. It has resulted in an anomic world, making governance very difficult. This situation calls for new forms of sociotechnics. There are some instances of brand new procedures geared towards civil involvement at a global level on the agenda. One of these new approaches is “Die Plannungzelle” (in English “ The Planning Cell”), after Prof. P. Dienel who initiated this reform movement in 1973 or also known, worldwide, as “Citizen’s Juries” after the American

participatory democracy institution that was initiated at the same time in the US (1972) influenced by Thomas Jefferson.

The "Planning Cell" is a group of randomly selected citizens (with remuneration) from their daily duties for a limited period in order to work out solutions to problems. Process moderators assist them. In this method the citizens act as lay assessors or lay planners. In order to avoid all forms of selective distortion, a systematic random procedure of selection from a clearly demarcated basic population is necessary. In this way a microcosm of society is formed, in which all social strata and age groups and both sexes have the chance to be represented. It is possible to include as many social values as possible in the decision-making process.


As well as possessing "common sense" and everyday experience, participants are provided with the necessary factual information. The input of the necessary information takes place mainly in the form of pre-prepared informative material, hearings with affected interest groups, interviews with experts, on-the-spot visits etc. (Steward, Kendall, Coote 1994, Dienel 1997)


The planning cell illustrates a type of “pragmatic utopian constructions” addressing the conflicts and problems of modern globalization. The influence of these constructions is not linked to institutional control over nation states, but to a “moral authority” of their ordinary members and recommendations worked out by them. Rather than focusing on legal balances between powerful actors on the international political scene, it offers a possibility for an alternative choice in the formation of global discourses.


Furthermore, this approach represents an example of sociotechnics with a slightly utopian bent. While, however it builds on the early aspirations to activate civil society, it does not link them to the trust in a consensus based on rational choice, but to a possibility of facilitating a novel political discourse to widen the field of participatory strategies. The Planning Cell is but one example of the global tendency to focus on citizens’ rights and participation.

The Blair government introduced “Citizen’s Juries” into the exercise of local social policy, National Health Service delivery in order to deliver inclusion policies ( Steward, Kendall, Coote 1994). There are numerous social experiments all over the world undertaken in the hope of finding ways of involving common citizens in the search for solutions to local problems.

The political aim of such initiatives is to trigger a process in which local volunteer resources are mobilised and the relation between public institutions and citizens is brought into debate (Hegland 1994, Hogsbro, Jochumsen and Ravn 1991, Rusmore 1999, Stoecker 1999, Williams 2000, Capece and Schanz 2000, Chappell and Lanza-Kaduce 2004). In this process both local resources and cultural values that define the political context for innovations are getting clarified. All these new approaches have also generated a multiplicity of evaluation designs, including the formative, empowerment, participant and “responsive constructivist” evaluations (Guba and Lincoln 1989, Fetterman et al 1996, Patton 1997).


The legislation that might follow these new types of developmental programs is supposed to encourage and support further developments in the field, where local mobilization has already engendered a local praxis ready to benefit from the new legislation.


These developmental programmes represent an innovative political form of mediating between top down and bottom up governance. At the same time, they constitute an almost utopian form of new reflexive governance, a sociotechnics of a decentralised welfare state. It aims at mobilising local people (civil society) around self defined issues and goals, and, as such, it remains sensitive to local context and local differences throughout the world (Bility 1999). There is nothing fixed about such approaches to sociotechnics. They might be transient. They are not inseparably linked to a certain level of governmental development. But they are part of valuable praxis that needs to be documented for both future recognition and added to the accumulated cultural capital enlarging the field of optional strategic choices.


Clifford Geertz used the concept “the universe of human discourses” to underscore the point that we are dealing with multiple possibilities of ways people can organise themselves in meaningful societal relations (Geetz 1973: 14). The limits of these possibilities we will never be able to anticipate. Geertz makes a statement that is relevant to the discussion on sociotechnics when he concludes: “The essential vocation of interpretive anthropology is not to answer our deepest questions, but to make available to us answers that others, guarding other sheep in other valleys, have given, and thus to include them in the consultable record of what men has said.” (ibid. 30). Sociological practice must realise that by contributing to the revelation of the “universe of human discourses” and reporting about sociotechnics practiced in different places and different times, we contribute to human development.


Yet, it is necessary to remember Podgorecki’s warnings about utopian sociotrechnics. They were rooted in the totalitarian experience of the 20th century Europe. As history has shown, the dangers of utopian designs aiming at transforming social structures to fit a “scientific” blueprint are immense. Even when the goals seem progressive and legitimate, an imposed utopia represents a threat to vital interests and integrity of local society. To exemplify this, Podgorecki referred to a study conducted by Massell (1974), which concerned the revolutionary strategy to emancipate women in the Muslim communities of the Soviet Central Asia in 1919-1929. The hidden goal was to penetrate and undermine from within tight-knit Muslim society. This intervention resulted in a worsening situation for the local women. The lessons derived from the totalitarian past have to be kept in mind as a reminder of a negative potential of grand designs and the need for a realistic sociological understanding of the context in which the intervention is taking place.

General Demands to Sociological Theory


From the recent and passed discussions about sociotechnics, its methodology, goals and interdependency of the governmentality, we can outline the following conclusions related to the current processes of globalisation and the prospects for sociology to make a difference in the field of international discourses:

  1. In a glocalised world, the primary function of sociology may relate to expand the discursive field of governmentality by offering opportunities for people to develop or access different discourses, and thereby enhancing their ability to engage with the processes of globalisation and concomitant transformations of organisations, local communities and everyday life.
  2. Sociological practice presupposes a sociological theory that is not exclusively oriented towards either macro or micro level phenomena. Sociological theory has to mediate between these two levels, as even the smallest social unit will be an actor on a global scene.
  3. Under glocalisation, local actors increasingly liberated from national bonds and become more open to international networks and discourses. Relations between organisations are subject to continuous construction and reconstruction. Theories of discursive fields and inter-organisational networks become of vital importance.
  4. The nature of current trends of globalisation both requires and introduces profound transformations of social relations. Both at micro and macro level in theory and practice, we need to address issues of innovation, social security and social integrity.
  5. Sociology must combine the empirical study of social phenomena, and the critical analysis of social forms and processes with the production of policy guidelines directed both governments and social movements. These guidelines should aim at guarding fundamental civil rights, while facilitating negotiated change and accommodation of aspirations of diverse communities and groups.
  6. Sociotechnics has to encompass different levels of (global) society respecting their specific cultural/institutional characteristics. Thus the practical sociologist must master a multiplicity of sociological approaches to gain a more realistic understanding of the complexity of the changing social world.


During a recent series of it’s XVIth (2001), XVIIth (2004) and XVIIIth (2005) Conferences the Research Committee on Sociotechnics /Sociological Practice emphasised the rising importance of social capital7 to local development and presented innovative ways by which sociological interventions can enhance local democratic participation in various parts of the globe. Given the absence of structures and institutions capable of guaranteeing that the basic human problems and issues of the global society are addressed through democratic political processes, sociologists should play a role in making administrative processes more transparent and opening up channels for citizen participation spanning all levels of global society.



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¨ We would like to thank Prof. M. Los, University of Ottawa, for her invaluable help in the preparation of this paper.

[1] Secretary, International Sociological Association, Research Committee # 26 on Sociotechnics –Sociological Practice (ISA-RC26) www.ucm.es/info/isa/rc26.htm

[2] Board Member, International Sociological Association, Research Committee # 26 on Sociotechnics –Sociological Practice (ISA-RC26)

[3] Vice President, International Sociological Association, Research Committee # 26 on Sociotechnics –Sociological Practice (ISA-RC26)

[4] President, International Sociological Association, Research Committee # 26 on Sociotechnics –Sociological Practice (ISA-RC26)


¨ We would like to thank Prof. M. Los, University of Ottawa, for her invaluable help in the preparation of this paper.

[5] John Glass and Jan-Marie Fritz founded the Clinical Sociological Association in 1978. In 1986 the name was changed to The Sociological Practice Association (Fritz 1991).

6 Tsobanoglou, G. (2000): “The Ombudsman Institution in Greece” in Giddings, P. and Gregory, R. (eds.) Righting Wrongs: The Ombudsman system across the world, IOS Press & Ohmsha, Amsterdam, Tokyo. The country’s two top central universities, those of National of Athens and Aristotelian of Thessaloniki, lack Sociology, Geography and Demography Departments.


7 Tsobanoglou, G. (2004): Building Social Capital and Local Communities under Globalisation, Proceedings of the XVIII Conference of ISA RC26, Molyvos, Greece.