DS-1996-04:
Bruggeman, Jeroen
(1996)
*Formalizing Organizational Ecology.*
Doctoral thesis, University of Amsterdam.

## Abstract

The aims of this thesis are threefold: (1) to show to sociologists

that formalization is useful, i.e., that a great deal of informal

sociological conclusions are unsound; that formalization

subsequently leads to improved sociological theories and to new

results, provided that the theory's underlying ideas are `good'; (2)

to formalize of the sociological theory ``organizational ecology''

(OE). OE is a collection of theory fragments, of which some are being

formalized in first-order logic and others in mathematics; (3)

to present heuristics and examples to sociologists who themselves want to

formalize. As a side issue, some prejudices against

formalization are debunked (in Ch.1).

Logical formalization proceeds iteratively along a number of steps,

from a discursive theory to its formal representation. At each step,

heuristics are presented (in Ch.1). Six steps are distinguished:

(1) study of the discursive theory, (2) dictionary of important

concepts, (3) core theory cast in informal premises and theorems, (4)

semantics of the core theory, (5) formalization of the core theory,

thereby applying an automated theorem-prover, and (6) evaluation of the

formalization. This tentative formalization method has much in common

with standard software engineering.

The target theory to be formalized is organizational ecology (OE). OE

is a theory about `Darwinian selection' in populations of social

organizations (Ch.2). A population consists of organizations of a

similar form. An example of such a form is automobile manufacturers.

Individual organizations are seen as inert. According to OE, rational

adaptation of organizations to their environment plays an

insignificant role.

As an exception to many sociological theories that are less clear,

OE's inertia fragment has 10 explicit assumptions and 5 explicit

theorems, in natural language. These sentences have been formalized in

first-order logic (see Ch.3). The theorems could not otherwise be derived.

The relative clarity of this theory fragment made it possible to

derive them after making small modifications to the assumptions.

Adding a distinction between organizations under reorganization, and

organizations in normal, reorganization-free conditions, has made the

inertia fragment consistent. A couple of new theorems have been

derived from the initial set of formalized sentences.

The niche fragment's conclusions should follow from a mathematical

model. In this model, however, two dimensions have been confused by

the authors. The model does not and can not support the

conclusions. Neither can the argument in natural language. In order to

repair the niche fragment, two strategies have been applied. (1)

Making a `reverse engineering' from the conclusions to find reasonable

assumptions in OE that support them. This has been achieved by a

formalization in first-order logic (Ch.4). (2) Repairing the

mathematical model, which then makes different predictions than

intended by the authors (Ch.5).

The density dependence fragment has been formalized by its author, as

a class of mathematical models. The theorems contain typos and give

room for counterexamples, as was found by other researchers.

Furthermore, the definition of competition among organizations is not

convincingly motivated (see Ch.6). With a new definition, the intended

theorems follow. Moreover, the new definition, plus a couple of

formalized assumptions from another theory fragment - resource

partitioning - and an empirical generalization, make it possible to

derive a number of new results that are sociologically relevant. These

new results incorporate and substantially extend the claims in

resource partitioning (Ch.6).

To conclude, in all formalized fragments of OE, all conclusions

required modifications of the theory to derive them. These

modifications consisted of making implicit information explicit,

elucidating and relating basic concepts, fine-tuning assumptions,

definitions and theorems, using assumptions from one fragment in

another fragment, and developing mathematical models. Along the way,

OE has been made more parsimonious, by discarding redundant concepts

and assumptions, and by deriving some assumptions as theorems. Some

fragments have been generalized, and other fragments turned out to be

more restricted than they appeared to be at first sight. Last but not

least, a number of new propositions has been derived.

By sociological standards, OE is an advanced theory. Logical flaws,

as discussed in this thesis, are certainly not characteristic for OE

in particular, and can be found in many sociological theories, often

in more severe forms. Sociologists appreciate logical criteria, but

rarely, if at all, do they apply these criteria to their own theories.

This thesis demonstrates that logical flaws can be found and repaired,

and that thereby new insights can be gained. For this purpose a number of

heuristics and examples have been provided. Other sociological

theories, possibly in worse logical shape than OE, would possibly

benefit even more from formalization.

Item Type: | Thesis (Doctoral) |
---|---|

Report Nr: | DS-1996-04 |

Series Name: | ILLC Dissertation (DS) Series |

Year: | 1996 |

Subjects: | Language Logic |

Depositing User: | Dr Marco Vervoort |

Date Deposited: | 14 Jun 2022 15:16 |

Last Modified: | 14 Jun 2022 15:16 |

URI: | https://eprints.illc.uva.nl/id/eprint/1997 |

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