As individuals’ ties to community organizations and the companies they work for weaken, many analysts worry that the fabric of our society is deteriorating. But others counter that new social networks, especially those forming online, create important and possibly even stronger social bonds than those of the past. In Social Commitments in a Depersonalized World, Edward Lawler, Shane Thye, and Jeongkoo Yoon examine interpersonal and group ties and propose a new theory of social commitments, showing that multiple interactions, group activities and, particularly, emotional attachment, are essential for creating and sustaining alignments between individuals and groups.
Lawler, Thye, and Yoon acknowledge that long-term social attachments have proven fragile in a volatile economy where people increasingly form transactional associations—based not on collective interest but on what will yield the most personal advantage in a society shaped by market logic. Although person-to-group bonds may have become harder to sustain, they continue to play a vital role in maintaining healthy interactions in larger social groups from companies to communities. Drawing on classical and contemporary sociology, organizational psychology, and behavioral economics, Social Commitments in a Depersonalized World shows how affiliations—particularly those that involve a profound emotional component—can transcend merely instrumental or transactional ties and can even transform these impersonal bonds into deeply personal ones.
The authors study the structures of small groups, corporations, economic transactions, and modern nation-states to determine how hierarchies, task allocation, and social identities help or hinder a group’s vitality. They find that such conditions as equal status, interdependence, and overlapping affiliations figure significantly in creating and sustaining strong person-to-group bonds. Recurring collaboration with others to achieve common goals—along with shared responsibilities and equally valued importance within an organization—promote positive and enduring feelings that enlarge a person’s experience of a group and the significance of their place within it. Employees in organizations with strong person-to-group ties experience a more unified, collective identity. They tend to work more cost effectively, meet company expectations, and better regulate their own productivity and behavior.
The authors make clear that the principles of their theory have implications beyond business. With cultures pulling apart and crashing together like tectonic plates, much depends on our ability to work collectively across racial, cultural, and political divides. The new theory in Social Commitments in a Depersonalized World provides a way of thinking about how groups form and what it takes to sustain them in the modern world.