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Chance in Human Affairs Author(s): Jerome G. Manis and Bernard N. Meltzer Source: Sociological Theory, Vol. 12, No.

1 (Mar., 1994), pp. 45-56 Published by: American Sociological Association Stable URL: Accessed: 11/08/2010 06:56
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Chance in Human Affairs

G. JEROME MANIS Western Michigan University

BERNARD MELTZER N. Central Michigan University

Under the sway of the postulate of determinism,sociologists (with some exceptions) have given little direct attentionto sheerlyfortuitousevents. Such eventsare analytically distinguishable from those which are consideredthe results of chance only because we lack knowledge of their causation. Exemplifications pure chance abound of currently in the various arts and sciences, including sociology (especially in work by symbolic interactionists).Direct, explicit considerationof random, accidental, or chance phenomena requires approaches that emphasizeboth the processes of behaviorand interaction and the case-study method of investigation.

Is chance a useful, appropriate sociological conception?Although relatively few sociologists have given attentionto its impact on sociological phenomena,the concept of chance is exerting an increasinginfluencethroughout artsand sciences. Hence this paperaims the to fill a lacuna in the literature chance in sociology. Such literature tendedto define on has and treat the topic in terms that comport with an assumptionof absolute determinismin the universe. Our paper, in contrast, directs attentionto a conception, or form, of chance thatchallenges such determinism.In attemptingthis task, we discuss the natureof chance, its manifestationsin various fields of knowledge, and its implicationsfor sociology. Chance, as we use it here, refers to events that possess the following overlapping features: 1) absence of cause, 2) absence of predictability,and 3) absence of regularityin the sequence of the action and its antecedentconditions. This definitiondiffers from the more common one, which equates chance with statistical "probability." The latter term implies the possibility of numericalstatementsof the probabilityof a given outcome as a ratio to a total number of possible outcomes. Such statementsare not feasible in most instances of chance in our sense of the term. Synonyms for our usage include the and WilliamGrahamSummer's"aleaphilosophicalconcepts of "accident" "contingency," Charles S. Peirce's "tychism"(from tyche, the Greek word for chance), tory element," Carl G. Jung's "synchronicity"(in some of its interpretations), "coincidence," "uncer"near-determinism" Burks 1977, p. 577), "luck,""indeterminism," (see tainty,""fortuity," "emergence,"and others. True chance contravenes determinism, a fundamentalpostulate of science. A highly popularsociology textbookon methodsof research(Babbie 1983) espouses this postulateprobablyin more extreme form than do most sociologists-as follows: The kindof understanding seek as we analyzesocialresearch we datainevitably involves a deterministic model of humanbehavior.In lookingfor the reasonswhy people are the way they are and do the things they do, we implicitlyassumethat theircharacteristics and actionsare determined forces and factorsoperating them (p. 55). on by
Sociological Theory 12:1 March 1994 ? AmericanSociological Association. 1722 N Street NW, Washington,DC 20036



Interestingly,subsequenteditions of the book softened this "harddeterminism." In the words of one philosopher(Feinberg 1977, p. 334), however, "If everythingthat happenscan in principlebe explained [causally], is therethen no such thing in the universe as random chance, genuine contingency, and uncertainty?" We argue that some events can be understoodmost clearly only in terms of genuine chance. At the same time, we recognize the reluctance of many sociologists to accept the objective reality of so incalculable, unintelligible, apparentlymeaningless, and perhapsunanalyzablea phenomenon the as chance, conceived in this way. Moreover, we understand common resistance to a conception that is almost the negation of order, of uniformity,in the universe.

THE NATURE OF CHANCE of Examinationof several excellent generaltreatments chance reveals threedifferentviews of its nature (see "Chance"in Adler 1952; Edwards 1967; Wiener 1973). One view is that chance events differ from determinedevents as to the mannerof their causation:the former occur by contingency and the latterby necessity. This view has proved to be less useful and less provocative than the other two in modem considerationsof chance. A or second, more useful view holds chance events to be unpredictable less predictableonly because of our ignorance of their causes. This conception does not grantchance events a separate ontological status; instead it distinguishes them from other events only on the basis of their predictability,given the state of knowledge. Theoriesof probabilitytypically assume this view. Finally, a third conception regardschance events as those which occur totally withoutcause-purely spontaneousor fortuitousevents. Relatively few sociologists (or other scholars) subscribeto this meaning as applicableto their work. Two of the above views, then, raise the questionof whetherchance is simply a reflection of our ignorance or is a propertyof things, part of the structureof the universe. These opposing conceptions of chance-the epistemic or subjective and the ontological or objective-have contended since the days of the early Greek philosophers. Rather than reviewing the debate here, we shall merely survey briefly the history of the ontological view, which representsour main concernin this paper.This rapidreview should illuminate the natureand validity of this conception of chance. At this point we wish to make clear that our focus on the ontological sense of chance does not preclude our recognizing the utility of the epistemic sense of the term. Epicurus held that the universe was composed of atoms, some of which occasionally swerved, by their own power, from their usual downward course. In his view, these uncausedevents supportedthe doctrineof chance. Aristotlewas providedwith an example of chance by the accidental but desired meeting of two friends in the marketplaceafter years of separation. In his thinking, the line of action that brought each friend to the markethad its causes, but the coincidence or intersectionof the two lines was uncaused or, at best, markedby indirectcausation. During the Middle Ages, the epistemic view, enunciated by Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas, and other dominantthinkers,met with almost no opposition. Similarly, in the eighteenthand nineteenthcenturies, the view increasinglyprevailedthat aggregates of "chance"events may conform to laws. This position characterizedthe early doctrine of chances, which developed into the mathematicaltheory of probability. In the late nineteenth century, Charles S. Peirce and William James, both of whom figureprominentlyin the provenanceof symbolic interactionism,made chance events part of their theoretical perspectives. Peirce, a thoroughgoingadvocate of indeterminism,as expressed in his concept of "tychism,"asserted:



and Tryto verifyany law of nature you will findthatthe morepreciseyourobservations, from the law. We are accusthe more certainthey will be to show irregular departures
tomed to ascribe these . . . to errors of observation; yet we cannot account for such

errorsin any antecedently probableway. Tracetheir causes back far enough and you
will be forced to admit they are always due to . . . chance ([1892] 1955, p. 331).

Using an example of what has been called "emergence,"James ([1884] 1968, p. 593) wrote: "What is meant by saying that my choice of which way to walk home after [a] lecture is ambiguous and a matterof chance as far as the present moment is concerned? . . .[T]his ambiguity of my choice is real." According to James (p. 592), chance is "a purely negative and relative term, giving us no informationaboutthatof which it is predicted,except thatit happensto be disconnected with something else,-not controlled, secured, or necessitatedby other things in advance of its own actual presence." Early in the twentieth century two physicists, Ludwig Boltzmannand his successor at the University of Vienna, FranzExner, anticipatedthe principleof indeterminacyin both its specific and its general sense. FranzExner asserted:
From a multitude of events . . . laws can be inferred which are valid for the average state . . . of this multitude whereas the individual event may remain undetermined. In

withoutbeing occurrences this sense the principleof causalityholds for all macroscopic are valid for the microcosm.It also follows thatthe laws of the macrocosm necessarily
not absolute laws but rather laws of probability . . . (Wiener 1973, p. 588).

At the present time, exponents of the ontological conception of chance, and hence of the objective reality of indeterminism,find support in modem subatomic physics. The uncertaintyprinciple formulated by Werner Heisenberg and elaborated by others has fact convincedmany physicists and otherscholarsthatchanceis a fundamental of behavior. This is not to say, however, that the epistemic view currentlylacks supportersamong quantumphysicists. We are not espousing an absolute antideterminist position. Rather, we consider our which ArthurV. Burks(1977, p. 577) characterizes as one of "near-determinism," position as "the doctrine that, though nature is for the most part governed by causally uniform For . . . laws, some events are not predetermined." Burks (and for us), then, the universe is partiallya chance universe. This position mediates between absolute determinismand absolute indeterminism,recognizing that some events are determinedwhereas others are not. In a similar vein, Mead (1938, pp. 153-168) asserted that an event can be caused partly without being determinedfully by the past. MANIFESTATIONS CHANCE OF Earlier we mentioned that various fields of knowledge have found the idea of chance necessary or useful. In this section we survey some of the uses of this idea in a few of these fields; then we discuss how a numberof sociologists have found it useful. Our first example is provided by the recent cross-disciplinaryconcern, among some scientists, with "chaos." The term chaos is applied in this sense to explain phenomena that have not seemed to fit into traditional interpretationsof the natural world. The of unpredictability physical turbulence, marketprices, shoreline variations, and climatic changes is explained as the result of underlyinglevels of both disorderand order.Systems of phenomenamarkedby chaos are quite sensitive both to initial conditions and to minute



but unpredictablevariables. Thus, as stated in one monograph,"A small fluctuationmay start an entirely new evolution that will drastically change the whole behavior of the
macroscopic system . . . Far from opposing 'chance' and 'necessity,' we now see both

aspects as essential in the descriptionof non-linearsystems"(Prigogineand Stengers 1984, p. 14). As we recalled previously, the twentieth century began with an importantcritique of determinismand accordinglywith an affirmationof chance in physics. Until that time, as well as today, classical mechanics accepted the principle of continuity, the ineluctability of determinism,and hence cause-and-effectrelationships.That principlewas undermined by Max Planck's influential publication on black-body radiation, which raised serious doubts about the continuityof physical processes. Planck's views soon were substantiated and amplified by the Heisenberg uncertaintyaxiom, which now is accepted by most quantumtheorists. As a consequence, Porter (1986, p. 150) asserts: "Clearly, chance is recognized as a fundamentalaspect of the world in a way that it was not before." Peat states even more directly the prevailing standpointin modem physics: answersareabsolute irreducible. and They Quantum theorydictatesthatthe probabilistic
are not a measure of ignorance but of absolute chance. .. . For two hundred years,

and physicistshave been searchingfor processes,mechanisms, causeswithinthe world is sayingthat, at the level of quantum around them. Now quantum processes,no theory
such hidden causes exist . . . (1990, pp. 18-19).

In all fairness, however, we must remind readersthat Einstein resolutely resisted the notion of the indeterminismof quantumtheory, asserting, "God does not play dice with the universe!" In the field of biology, we find that several evolutionary theorists, beginning with Darwin and his notion of "accidental variation," have emphasized fortuitous changes. Paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould (1989), for example, stresses the centralityof chance in evolution as evidenced by momentous discoveries at the Burgess Shale in western Canada. He writes of the "awesome improbabilityof human evolution," and refers repeatedly to the ways in which "contingencies," or chance occurrences, have sent the evolutionaryprocess down blind alleys. Along the same line of reasoning,Russianbotanist ArmenTakhtajan (1990, p. E3) asserts:"The origin of man dependedon so many random events that it is difficult to imagine that the same kind of intelligence could exist elsewhere." Also, as a 1981 survey of evolutionarytheory points out, many biologists claim that "at any time, the directionof the next event of speciationwill be heavily dependent upon unpredictablehistorical and genetic accidents"(Stanley 1981, p. 181). We wish next to mention the role of chance in the various arts. In music, John Cage has been described as a creatorof aleatory,or chance, compositions. These compositions employ the element of chance in the choice of tones, rests, durations,rhythms,dynamics, and so on. In similar fashion, aleatory poetry uses chance or haphazardmethods of writing, such as puttingtogetherclippings of randomnewspaperitems. The term aleatory also has been applied to dance forms and to theaterproductions.As pointed out by the editor of a volume that dealt with those spontaneousart forms, which were becoming popularin the 1960s, "Methodicaluse of Chance methodbegan with Dada. According to one version of the story, the movement's name itself was chosen at random from a German-French dictionary"(Kirby 1965, p. 35). In contrastwith other forms of chance we have consideredhere, aleatoryart, literature,and music entail deliberaterandomness. Herodotus, Thucydides, Plutarch, Gibbon, and many other historians, as well as MaMore chiavelli, found fortuity ("historicalaccident")a useful principle of interpretation.



recently, several historians (e.g., Gibson 1966; Olien 1973) have described such chance incidents as those attendingthe conquest of Peru in 1531. By happenstance,the Spanish conquistadorFrancisco Pizarro, with an armed force of about 180 men, launched his assault on the Incas of Peru at exactly the "right"time. That country had just emerged from a bloody civil conflict and from a smallpox epidemic that decimatedthe population; both circumstancesseriously weakened its ability to resist the invasion. The collapse of the Soviet Union provides a much more recent example. Sheila Fitzpatrick,a professor of moder Russianhistory, drawson chaos theoryin discussingthis majorhistoricalevent: In a chaotic system [such as the Soviet Union shortlybefore its collapse], there are with unpredictable shifts of pattern,periodsof turbulence outsudden, unpredictable or don'tcarryover fromone pattern to comes;the regularities elementsof predictability another.. . . Afterthe fact, you can tracethe sequencethatled to the disintegration of one patterninto turbulence,and-when enoughtime has elapsedfor a new patternto take hold-you can trace the emergenceout of turbulence that new pattern.Before of the fact, however,thereis no way of predicting exact sequence(1993, pp. 47-48). that In the field of psychology, we find that Jung took chance into account. MarianneA. Paget (1990), describing experiences in her own life, refers to Jung's designation of by uncannycoincidences as "synchronicity," which he identifiedevents that parallel one anotherand have the same meaning, but no causal connection. Jung gave the example of an insect's coming into view in his office during a patient's account of her aversion to such insects, thereby breakinga therapeuticdeadlock. In Jung's words: Synchronicitydesignates the parallelismof time and meaningbetween psychic and events. ... The termexplainsnothing,it simplyformulates occurthe psychophysical rence of meaningfulcoincidenceswhich, in themselves,are chancehappenings, so but that we must assumethem to be based on some property the empirical of improbable world (Paget 1990, pp. ). several psychologists are concernedwith fortuity,includingthe effects of chance Currently, encounterson life paths (Bandura1982), the use of chance occurrencesin psychotherapy (Hunsley and Glueckauf 1988), and the role of chance in careerdevelopment(Cabraland Salomone 1990). We begin our considerationof manifestations chancein the subjectmatterof sociology of with a reminderthat William GrahamSumnerwas the earliest major sociologist to focus attention on the importance of chance for individuals and society. In Folkways([1906] 1940) and, posthumously,in the four-volumeThe Science of Society ([1910] 1927), which he publishedwith Albert Keller, Sumnergave serious attentionto the aleatoryelement in human affairs. It may be anticlimactic,however, to point out that he was concernedless with chance itself than with the belief in chance, which is exhibited in various ways in all societies. Robert MacIver's influential Social Causation offers some hypothetical illustrations, reminiscentof Aristotle's example of the chance meeting in the marketplace,of "precipitants"(akin to chance or luck factors): If A had not gone to this partyhe would not have met Miss B, could not have married her, and his whole story would have been different.If C had not travelledon the same D ship with D he could not have recommended for this position, and the subsequent for If events, so profoundly important D, wouldneverhave occurred. this sensitiveboy


SOCIOLOGICAL THEORY had not injuredhis eye in an accidenthe would have not become moroseand brooding andprobably wouldnot have turned a delinquent. instances whicha particular into The in act or event seems to determinethe furtherhistory of the individuallife are endless (1942, p. 179).

In Normal Accidents (1984), Charles Perrow tells us that complex industrial, space, and military systems (and the organizationsthat administerthem) are markedby virtually inevitable "normal," or system, accidents. Such occurrences arise from "interactions [within the systems] that are not only unexpected, but are incomprehensiblefor some critical period of time" (p. 9). Here we have an ambiguous case: are such occurrences always simply the productsof incompleteknowledge, or arethey trulychance occurrences? Anotherorganizational theorist, political scientist HerbertKaufman,sumarizeshis book Time, Chance, and Organizationsin the following statement:
In accounting for the longevity of old organizations. ... I appraised the major explaI contended

nations(skill, flexibility,and stable ecological niches), found them wanting, and concluded that chance is the principal factor in long organizational life. ...

in thateven if the specifiedfactorsare as important the survivalof organizations they as are said to be, they themselvesoccurby chance(1991, p. 180; our emphasis). Kaufman elucidates the final sentence in this quotation by hypothesizing that "even if leadersdo appearto be as importantas conventionalopinions hold them to be, the quality of leadershipwill neverthelessprove to be randomlyratherthan systematicallydistributed among organizations, and chance will thereforeremain the main factor in organizational survival"(p. 150). At this point, let us interpolate a curious fact about contemporarysociology and sociologists. Although the use of chance, luck, or similar concepts receives little direct, explicit attentionin currentsociological theory or research,individualsociologists appear to be aware of such concepts, at least in their own lives. This point is evident in a recent of collection of intellectualautobiographies well-known sociologists. Of the 20 autobiogsix explicitly state the importanceof chance at certaincriticaltimes in their lives. raphies, Citationsfrom two individuals' reportsare illustrative: worldand, Over the years dozens of people have askedhow I got into the professional assertedthateverymore specifically,into my sociologicalspecialty.I have repeatedly thinghappened accident(Cressey1990, p. 235). by By the luck that seems to come my way at crucialtimes, the year in which I started at workin Boston, 1936, markedthe beginningof a new administration the law school of the then privateUniversityof Buffalo (Riesman1990, p. 43). A much more extensive concern with luck is shown by Charles H. Page, whose bears the subtitleA LuckyJourney. Among the eight references to luck in autobiography this book, one sums up his views: The role of the lucky breakin what are generallyviewed as successfulcareershas been accounts.This neglecthas been and in underplayed manybiographical autobiographical with the impactof culturaland structural as often noted, by preoccupation encouraged, forces upon individuallives (1982, p. 3).



have devoted much explicit In contrastwith most sociologists, symbolic interactionists role of chance in humanaffairs. The concept of attentionto the sometimes consequential "emergence,"with its assumptionsof human agency, voluntarism,or free will, is central to such attention. Meltzer and Manis (1992) point out that emergence, the occurrenceof novel, unpredictable-chance-behavior on both the individualand the collective level, is not derived entirely from antecedentevents or experiences. Such conduct, they believe, "is not merely the expression or productof people's personalitiesor of conditions antecedent to the given situation"(p. 366). Further,they state that three closely intertwined propositions,accepted as truismsby emergentistsymbolic interactionists,help to account for emergence as an aspect of social life. These propositionsare that 1) human beings play an active role in shaping their own conduct; 2) human consciousness involves a creativeinteractionwith oneself; and 3) humanbeings constructtheirbehaviorin the course of its execution. Using these premises, which are testable chiefly through everyday experiences, interactionistshave specified numerousmanifestationsof emergence. Thus the foremost progenitorof symbolic interactionism,George HerbertMead (1934, p. 177), drew attention, as did HerbertG. Blumer (1969), to the familiar experience of finding that one's actual behavior in given situationsmay differ from what one expected to do, even moments before. Other manifestationsdescribed by interactionistsinclude the following actions on the individual, interpersonal,and intergrouplevels of conduct: in the performanceof social roles, individuals engage in "role making"(Turner1962) ratherthan simply role taking in and role playing; even in situationsmarkedby coercion or unequalpower, participants and 1978) theirrelationships behaviorratherthanmerely organizations"negotiate" (Strauss "emergentnorms"(Turner adheringto organizationalnorms or other externalconstraints; and Killian 1987; Snow, Zurcher,and Peters 1981) arise frequentlyin collective behavior; novel social forms (e.g., innovative patterns, social movements) emerge constantly in modem societies and cultures. Insistent deterministsreject the idea of emergence and of other terms denoting sheer chance, contending that no events are inherently uncaused and unpredictable.Catton illustratesthis point: to often attributed "collectivephenomena" . . . the propertyof "emergence" may be themselves.While theoriesthana traitof the phenomena of morea characteristic current some properties collective phenomena of may indeedbe emergentin termsof a given state of knowledge . . ., as knowledgeof the constituentphenomenaimproves,the This year'stheories of character the collectivephenomena may be diminished. emergent often explainwhatlast year's theoriescouldn't(1966, p. 315). Mead (1959, p. 14) describes a common, everyday process of thinkingthat may help us to understandwhy some sociologists remainoutragedby any hint of indeterminacyin the social realm, even despite personal experiences that appearto confirm it. After the occurrenceof greatly unexpected events-whether merely unpredictedor inherentlyunpredictable-human beings tend to symbolically reconstructthe events, construingthem retrospectivelyas determined.This postdictive thought process supportsthe widely (and deeply) instilled scientific postulates of universalcausality, predictability,and regularity. Lest readersinfer that emergence, as purposefuland self-directedbehavior,thereforeis caused behavior (and not chance), we enter a demurrer.We agree with Taylor (1983, p. 49), who asserts: "Instead . . . of speaking of agents as causing their own acts, it would perhaps be better to use anotherword entirely, and say, e.g., that they originate them, initiate them, or simply perform them."



Contributorsto symbolic interactionismalso have helped to develop the literatureof social contingencies, an area of social life that is filled with the possibilities of chance events. Thus, for example, Everett C. Hughes (1958) dealt with occupational career contingencies (e.g., "being in the right place at the righttime");HowardS. Becker (1963) and Edwin Lemert (1967) studied contingencies that arise in the course of careers in deviance; and Erving Goffman (1961) examined contingencies in the moral career of the mental patient. Still another type of contingency has been studied by systems theorist NorbertWiener on organizational WalterBuckley, who approvinglyquotes mathematician contingency, as follows: we Organization must consider as somethingin which there is an interdependence has betweenthe severalorganized partsbutin whichthe interdependence degrees.Certain mustbe moreimportant thanothers,which is the same thing internal inderdependencies is as saying that the internalinterdependence not complete,and that the determination of of certainquantities the systemleaves otherswith the chanceto vary (Buckley 1967, p. 82). Note the resemblanceof this idea to those expressed in Perrow's explanationof "normal accidents"and Kaufman'stheory of organizationallongevity. A final sphere of fortuitous events relates to Robert K. Merton's (1977) concept of the "serendipity," basis for fortunatethough essentially accidentaldiscoveries in science. We mentionthis concept in connectionwith the fact that it has stimulatedmuch discussion and has prompteda numberof descriptions, in sociology and in the naturalsciences, of specific cases of such discoveries (e.g., the discovery of quarksby physicists). It appears less than defensible that sociologists readily accept the existence of serendipity(chance, luck) in scientific activities but not in other forms of humanconduct. The above-mentionedexpressions of chance in human affairs are relatively clear-cut examples of its ontological form. In additionwe can list some frequentlynoted instances of recent large-scale social changes that may or may not constitutepurely chance events. of transformations the twentiethcenturythat were not We have in mind several structural foreseen by the "experts." The black revolution, the rise of feminism, the collapse of European communism, the sharp increases in oil prices, the enormous growth of the American national debt, the emergence of Japan as a world economic power, and the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq possibly are examples of true chance. OF THE IMPLICATIONS CHANCE FOR SOCIOLOGY Thus far we have considereda numberof aspectsof chance thathave engaged sociologists' attention. We have characterizedchance events as those exhibiting acausality, unpredictability, and irregularity.Further,we have differentiatedtwo basic forms of such events. One derives from current ignorance of causes that may be involved; the other-less commonly acknowledgedand hence emphasizedhere-implies an irreduciblerandomness as ontological. Then we listed illustrationsof the recognitionof chance, in the lattersense, by various fields of knowledge, including sociology. Now it is time to suggest some implicationsof this material. In view of sociologists' concern about the formulationof generalizations-statements of uniformities or regularities-it is not surprisingthat chance events typically escape their attention. Fortuitous occurrences are elusive by their very nature, as we have emphasized, and apparentlyare peripheralor even epiphenomenal. Hence such events commonly are regardedsimply as exceptional cases, insignificantin themselves, which



more powerful general statementseventually may comprehend. Alternatively, some sociologists choose to ignore such events, adheringinsteadto Aristotle'sexclusion of chance, anomalousevents from the scope of science (which they conceive as seeking only constant, universalregularities). Probablyequally common is the view, mentionedearlier, that despite the evidence of chance at the level of the individual actor, organization,or event, we find regularityat the aggregate level-which should suffice for our purposes.Porter(1986, p. 150) supports this view by his assertion that "the indeterminismof probabilityis so reliable and highly structured randomnessseems to disappearfrom the end result."Alfred R. Lindesmith that (1992), however, attacks this point by asserting that the quest for statisticalcorrelations and the related devising of "causal models" tend to create an unfortunateperception of "exceptionalinstances [as having] little or no meaning or function"(p. 262). We contend that a fuller understanding social phenomenawarrantsa closer study of of chance. Although we distinguish between "real"chance and epistemic chance, we freely admit what is obvious: the distinction cannot be made readily in all cases. After all, it is impossible to discover any conclusive evidence that all unpredictableevents never will become predictable. We ask, then, as does Sidney Hook (1958, p.168), is there any practical difference, however, between stating that an occurrence is undetermined(and hence unpredictable)and stating that an occurrenceis determinedso complexly that no reliablepredictionscan be made? In our considerationof the ways in which sociology can take fortuity into account, we endeavorto maintaina primaryconcern with chance in the sense that we have stressed here. Much of what we write, however, applies as well to other senses of the term. First, however, we cannot resist citing AbrahamKaplan's (1964) view that doctrinal, or metaphysical,determinismis of such uncertain,undemonstrable universalvalidity as to warrantreplacementby "methodologicaldeterminism."As Kaplanasserts, "Methodological determinism. . . states only that laws are worthlooking for here, not that they surely exist here, and surely not that they necessarily exist always and everywhere"(p. 124). How can sociologists study such a protean, adventitiousset of phenomena?To begin with, the search for chance factors in social life must not be hasty or exaggerated.On the instances. contrary, a first step could be to rule out erroneouslydesignated"fortuitous" For example, it is hardly appropriateto describe an adjudicatedcase of alcohol-related as event. Nor shouldwe judge as chancethe occurrence manslaughter a purely "accidental" of occupationalinjuries where employers have received numerouscitations for hazardous working conditions. Only circumstancesinvolving unknowablecauses should receive the "chance"designation. A more subtle-and probably more pertinent-illustration of this point is provided by the monographInequality:A Reassessmentof the Effect of Family .andSchooling in America (Jencks, and MarshallSmith, Henry Acland, Mary Jo Bane, David Cohen, Herbert Gintis, BarbaraHeyns, and Stephan Michelson 1972). Several in participants a review symposiumon the book castigatedJencksfor equatingwith "luck" the residualvariancein correlatesof financialand occupationalsuccess. By ignoringmore of likely alternativesin the interpretation residualdeviance, Jencks reachedthe questionable conclusion that luck outweighs people's social origins, cognitive skills, and education in determiningtheir destinies. Jencks's book brings to mind another importantconsideration:the social matrix of chance social events. As Pettigrewpoints out, Muchthatis considered"luck"is probably operation "knowing rightpeople" the of the and being in "theright"communication channels.Such networks not only relatedto are familiesbut school contactsas well . . . (1972, p. 1529).



An importantquestion is whether some theoreticaland researchperspectivesare more likely than others to discover and to consider the manifestationsof chance described above. Mainstream sociology, we have asserted, tends to slight such matters. Lowand frequencyanomalousitems do not hold the attentionof survey researchers others who seek to test their theories quantitatively. We are convinced that two familiar, closely connected staples of the interactionist approachmust marka sociology that aims to take chance into account;one of these staples is substantive, the other methodological. These emphases, of course, are intended as complements to contemporaryemphases, not as substitutes.On the substantiveside, we advocate greater concern with process and less with causality. Paul Rock, in discussing emergence-the form of chance that permeatesboth micro- and macro-level social behavior-states our position in extreme form: Indeedthe interactionists of generallychoose to shunthe vocabulary causalityaltogether. to Partof theirrejectionof causalitymay be attributed the transforming workperformed are that of by sociationitself:the effects of conditions so unstable theinvocation causality does not usefully capturethem. Prediction cannotbe basedon a foundation original of in causesbecausethe causesthemselvesaretransmuted oftenunforeseeable ways (1979, pp. 55-56). What we are saying is not new. We contend that studies of processes of behavior in both individual and joint actions, such as those which many interactionistshave undertaken, are more likely to disclose instances of fortuityor contingencythan do the standard searches for causes and correlates. By their very nature, the latter tend to seek out and examine causal, regular,and predictablevariables. The processualemphasis, on the other hand, stresses both the precariouscharacterof knowledge and the fluidity of social life; it keeps watch for all relevantdetails, whethertypical or atypical(see Rock 1979, p. 24). This brings us to our second recommended emphasis. Survey research and related methods, with their precoded, fixed-item questionnairesand interview schedules, leave little room for detailed probing of unexpected, atypical responses. Unexpected important events are most likely to be observed when the inquiry is open and flexibly structured. Current narrative,ethnographic,and otherqualitative,case-studytechniquesfit these broad specifications. Such techniques, favored by symbolic interactionismand other phenomenological frames of reference, may face a frequent-and valid-stricture of difficulties of replication, but are more likely than quantitativemethodsto uncover social fortuities. Sociologists increasingly have been broadening their conception of the task of the discipline. They continue to emphasize the establishmentof valid generalizations, but anotheraim has developed, which complements such emphasis. Humanisticallyoriented scholars and practitionersare engaging in additional kinds of knowledge-we do not include here such nihilistic orientationsas postmodernism-which will, in Blumer's frequently used phrase, "rendermodem social life intelligible." Such knowledge includes informationabout phenomenathat do not fit neatly into our generalizations.

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