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: http://www.jstor.org/stable/202034 Accessed: 11/08/2010 06:56
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sociologists (with some exceptions) have given little direct attentionto sheerlyfortuitousevents. JEROME MANIS Western Michigan University BERNARD MELTZER N. 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. 1722 N Street NW. which equates chance with statistical "probability. in contrast. 2) absence of predictability. the Greek word for chance). as we use it here.the concept of chance is exerting an increasinginfluencethroughout artsand sciences. we discuss the natureof chance. Central Michigan University Under the sway of the postulate of determinism.In attemptingthis task. we implicitlyassumethat theircharacteristics and actionsare determined forces and factorsoperating them (p.Direct. Such eventsare analytically distinguishable from those which are consideredthe results of chance only because we lack knowledge of their causation. tory element. "luck. appropriate sociological conception?Although relatively few sociologists have given attentionto its impact on sociological phenomena. on by Sociological Theory 12:1 March 1994 ? AmericanSociological Association."and others. Such statementsare not feasible in most instances of chance in our sense of the term. This definitiondiffers from the more common one. or form." "uncer"near-determinism" Burks 1977." "emergence. Is chance a useful.""fortuity. or chance phenomena requires approaches that emphasizeboth the processes of behaviorand interaction and the case-study method of investigation.and 3) absence of regularityin the sequence of the action and its antecedentconditions. p. "coincidence.DC 20036 . Exemplifications pure chance abound of currently in the various arts and sciences. accidental. refers to events that possess the following overlapping features: 1) absence of cause." Charles S." The latter term implies the possibility of numericalstatementsof the probabilityof a given outcome as a ratio to a total number of possible outcomes. Jung's "synchronicity"(in some of its interpretations). 55). True chance contravenes determinism. including sociology (especially in work by symbolic interactionists). Hence this paperaims the to fill a lacuna in the literature chance in sociology. 577)." (see tainty. Such literature tendedto define on has and treat the topic in terms that comport with an assumptionof absolute determinismin the universe.Chance in Human Affairs G. explicit considerationof random." Carl G. Chance.In lookingfor the reasonswhy people are the way they are and do the things they do. Our paper. and its implicationsfor sociology. Washington. a fundamentalpostulate of science. Peirce's "tychism"(from tyche. its manifestationsin various fields of knowledge. Synonyms for our usage include the and WilliamGrahamSummer's"aleaphilosophicalconcepts of "accident" "contingency. of chance thatchallenges such determinism. directs attentionto a conception.""indeterminism.

and perhapsunanalyzablea phenomenon the as chance. "If everythingthat happenscan in principlebe explained [causally].46 SOCIOLOGICAL THEORY Interestingly. unintelligible. In his view. apparentlymeaningless." In the words of one philosopher(Feinberg 1977. the epistemic view. however. from their usual downward course. both of whom figureprominentlyin the provenanceof symbolic interactionism. instead it distinguishes them from other events only on the basis of their predictability. Edwards 1967. A or second. p. these uncausedevents supportedthe doctrineof chance. raise the questionof whetherchance is simply a reflection of our ignorance or is a propertyof things. genuine contingency. Peirce. then. This view has proved to be less useful and less provocative than the other two in modem considerationsof chance. which representsour main concernin this paper.subsequenteditions of the book softened this "harddeterminism. part of the structureof the universe. a third conception regardschance events as those which occur totally withoutcause-purely spontaneousor fortuitousevents. Moreover. One view is that chance events differ from determinedevents as to the mannerof their causation:the former occur by contingency and the latterby necessity. the line of action that brought each friend to the markethad its causes. we shall merely survey briefly the history of the ontological view.made chance events part of their theoretical perspectives. In the late nineteenth century. conceived in this way. in the eighteenthand nineteenthcenturies. These opposing conceptions of chance-the epistemic or subjective and the ontological or objective-have contended since the days of the early Greek philosophers. Aristotlewas providedwith an example of chance by the accidental but desired meeting of two friends in the marketplaceafter years of separation. Charles S. is therethen no such thing in the universe as random chance.This rapidreview should illuminate the natureand validity of this conception of chance.given the state of knowledge. more useful view holds chance events to be unpredictable less predictableonly because of our ignorance of their causes. Theoriesof probabilitytypically assume this view. Similarly. This position characterizedthe early doctrine of chances. 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. Finally. the view increasinglyprevailedthat aggregates of "chance"events may conform to laws. In his thinking. Two of the above views. which developed into the mathematicaltheory of probability. a thoroughgoingadvocate of indeterminism. Rather than reviewing the debate here. At the same time. we recognize the reluctance of many sociologists to accept the objective reality of so incalculable. This conception does not grantchance events a separate ontological status.met with almost no opposition. markedby indirectcausation. Saint Thomas Aquinas. but the coincidence or intersectionof the two lines was uncaused or. 334). Relatively few sociologists (or other scholars) subscribeto this meaning as applicableto their work. at best.as expressed in his concept of "tychism. During the Middle Ages. enunciated by Saint Augustine. and other dominantthinkers. Epicurus held that the universe was composed of atoms. some of which occasionally swerved.in the universe. of uniformity. Wiener 1973)."asserted: . we understand common resistance to a conception that is almost the negation of order. and uncertainty?" We argue that some events can be understoodmost clearly only in terms of genuine chance. by their own power. Peirce and William James. THE NATURE OF CHANCE of Examinationof several excellent generaltreatments chance reveals threedifferentviews of its nature (see "Chance"in Adler 1952.

" According to James (p. some events are not predetermined. In withoutbeing occurrences this sense the principleof causalityholds for all macroscopic are valid for the microcosm. Our first example is provided by the recent cross-disciplinaryconcern. giving us no informationaboutthatof which it is predicted. . Mead (1938. 153-168) asserted that an event can be caused partly without being determinedfully by the past. with "chaos. 577) characterizes as one of "near-determinism. ." The term chaos is applied in this sense to explain phenomena that have not seemed to fit into traditional interpretationsof the natural world. that the epistemic view currentlylacks supportersamong quantumphysicists. p. we consider our which ArthurV. and hence of the objective reality of indeterminism. . among some scientists. . In this section we survey some of the uses of this idea in a few of these fields. though nature is for the most part governed by causally uniform For . 588). p. . . to errors of observation. . Tracetheir causes back far enough and you will be forced to admit they are always due to . . (Wiener 1973."James ([1884] 1968.[T]his ambiguity of my choice is real. MANIFESTATIONS CHANCE OF Earlier we mentioned that various fields of knowledge have found the idea of chance necessary or useful. marketprices. shoreline variations. Rather. chance is "a purely negative and relative term. We are not espousing an absolute antideterminist position.recognizing that some events are determinedwhereas others are not. laws. We are accusthe more certainthey will be to show irregular departures tomed to ascribe these . then we discuss how a numberof sociologists have found it useful.It also follows thatthe laws of the macrocosm necessarily not absolute laws but rather laws of probability . . . 331). chance ([1892] 1955. 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? .except thatit happensto be disconnected with something else. . . secured. or necessitatedby other things in advance of its own actual presence. In a similar vein. the universe is partiallya chance universe. laws can be inferred which are valid for the average state . Burks(1977. p." Burks (and for us). yet we cannot account for such errorsin any antecedently probableway. 592). The of unpredictability physical turbulence. FranzExner. At the present time. pp." Early in the twentieth century two physicists. anticipatedthe principleof indeterminacyin both its specific and its general sense. from the law. This position mediates between absolute determinismand absolute indeterminism. then. however. The uncertaintyprinciple formulated by Werner Heisenberg and elaborated by others has fact convincedmany physicists and otherscholarsthatchanceis a fundamental of behavior.find support in modem subatomic physics. . . of this multitude whereas the individual event may remain undetermined. This is not to say. p.CHANCE IN HUMAN AFFAIRS 47 and Tryto verifyany law of nature you will findthatthe morepreciseyourobservations.-not controlled. and climatic changes is explained as the result of underlyinglevels of both disorderand order. Using an example of what has been called "emergence. FranzExner asserted: From a multitude of events . exponents of the ontological conception of chance.Systems of phenomenamarkedby chaos are quite sensitive both to initial conditions and to minute . Ludwig Boltzmannand his successor at the University of Vienna." position as "the doctrine that.

as stated in one monograph." have emphasized fortuitous changes.As pointed out by the editor of a volume that dealt with those spontaneousart forms. found fortuity ("historicalaccident")a useful principle of interpretation. Herodotus. . . These compositions employ the element of chance in the choice of tones. we find that several evolutionary theorists. "God does not play dice with the universe!" In the field of biology. According to one version of the story. In contrastwith other forms of chance we have consideredhere." and refers repeatedly to the ways in which "contingencies. 150) asserts: "Clearly.rhythms.and music entail deliberaterandomness. Planck's views soon were substantiated and amplified by the Heisenberg uncertaintyaxiom. As we recalled previously. we must remind readersthat Einstein resolutely resisted the notion of the indeterminismof quantumtheory." or chance occurrences.or chance. 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. Now quantum processes. Thucydides. Far from opposing 'chance' and 'necessity.mechanisms. He writes of the "awesome improbabilityof human evolution. . as a 1981 survey of evolutionarytheory points out. In music.no theory such hidden causes exist . Until that time. chance is recognized as a fundamentalaspect of the world in a way that it was not before. stresses the centralityof chance in evolution as evidenced by momentous discoveries at the Burgess Shale in western Canada.48 THEORY SOCIOLOGICAL but unpredictablevariables. and many other historians. as well as MaMore chiavelli." Peat states even more directly the prevailing standpointin modem physics: answersareabsolute irreducible. Plutarch. Porter (1986. For two hundred years. at the level of quantum around them.' we now see both aspects as essential in the descriptionof non-linearsystems"(Prigogineand Stengers 1984. p.dynamics. . literature. . and They Quantum theorydictatesthatthe probabilistic are not a measure of ignorance but of absolute chance. the movement's name itself was chosen at random from a German-French dictionary"(Kirby 1965. p. . p. the directionof the next event of speciationwill be heavily dependent upon unpredictablehistorical and genetic accidents"(Stanley 1981. 35). as well as today. asserting. Gibbon. which raised serious doubts about the continuityof physical processes. many biologists claim that "at any time. aleatory poetry uses chance or haphazardmethods of writing. Paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould (1989). and so on. Thus. durations. We wish next to mention the role of chance in the various arts. 18-19). p.That principlewas undermined by Max Planck's influential publication on black-body radiation. 181). for example. aleatoryart. beginning with Darwin and his notion of "accidental variation. In similar fashion. . compositions. which were becoming popularin the 1960s. the twentieth century began with an importantcritique of determinismand accordinglywith an affirmationof chance in physics. Along the same line of reasoning.."A small fluctuationmay start an entirely new evolution that will drastically change the whole behavior of the macroscopic system . As a consequence. classical mechanics accepted the principle of continuity. The term aleatory also has been applied to dance forms and to theaterproductions. "Methodicaluse of Chance methodbegan with Dada. pp. however. In all fairness. and physicistshave been searchingfor processes. have sent the evolutionaryprocess down blind alleys. 14)." Also.Russianbotanist ArmenTakhtajan (1990. John Cage has been described as a creatorof aleatory. rests. causeswithinthe world is sayingthat. which now is accepted by most quantumtheorists. (1990. such as puttingtogetherclippings of randomnewspaperitems. p. the ineluctability of determinism.and hence cause-and-effectrelationships.

it simplyformulates occurthe psychophysical rence of meaningfulcoincidenceswhich. pp.the regularities elementsof predictability another. 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. which is exhibited in various ways in all societies. Robert MacIver's influential Social Causation offers some hypothetical illustrations. Gibson 1966. wouldneverhave occurred. Paget (1990). . that In the field of psychology. .. That country had just emerged from a bloody civil conflict and from a smallpox epidemic that decimatedthe population.Before of the fact.a professor of moder Russianhistory.of "precipitants"(akin to chance or luck factors): If A had not gone to this partyhe would not have met Miss B. unpredictable or don'tcarryover fromone pattern to comes. we find that Jung took chance into account. and the role of chance in careerdevelopment(Cabraland Salomone 1990). Olien 1973) have described such chance incidents as those attendingthe conquest of Peru in 1531. so profoundly important D. MarianneA.and-when enoughtime has elapsedfor a new patternto take hold-you can trace the emergenceout of turbulence that new pattern. refers to Jung's designation of by uncannycoincidences as "synchronicity. thereby breakinga therapeuticdeadlock.. Sumnergave serious attentionto the aleatoryelement in human affairs.the Spanish conquistadorFrancisco Pizarro. Sheila Fitzpatrick. 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. In Jung's words: Synchronicitydesignates the parallelismof time and meaningbetween psychic and events. there are with unpredictable shifts of pattern. It may be anticlimactic. both circumstancesseriously weakened its ability to resist the invasion. ). posthumously. several historians (e. pp. so but that we must assumethem to be based on some property the empirical of improbable world (Paget 1990. this sensitiveboy . 47-48).CHANCE IN HUMAN AFFAIRS 49 recently. Afterthe fact. reminiscentof Aristotle's example of the chance meeting in the marketplace. to point out that he was concernedless with chance itself than with the belief in chance.g. describing experiences in her own life. drawson chaos theoryin discussingthis majorhistoricalevent: In a chaotic system [such as the Soviet Union shortlybefore its collapse]. launched his assault on the Incas of Peru at exactly the "right"time. which he publishedwith Albert Keller. In Folkways([1906] 1940) and.however. The termexplainsnothing.periodsof turbulence outsudden. you can tracethe sequencethatled to the disintegration of one patterninto turbulence. in themselves. The collapse of the Soviet Union provides a much more recent example. . but no causal connection.are chancehappenings. with an armed force of about 180 men." which he identifiedevents that parallel one anotherand have the same meaning.. however. By happenstance. could not have married her. and the subsequent for If events. encounterson life paths (Bandura1982). several psychologists are concernedwith fortuity. 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.includingthe effects of chance Currently.in the four-volumeThe Science of Society ([1910] 1927).thereis no way of predicting exact sequence(1993. the use of chance occurrencesin psychotherapy (Hunsley and Glueckauf 1988).

. in thateven if the specifiedfactorsare as important the survivalof organizations they as are said to be.individualsociologists appear to be aware of such concepts. accidents. flexibility.and stable ecological niches)..50 SOCIOLOGICAL THEORY had not injuredhis eye in an accidenthe would have not become moroseand brooding andprobably wouldnot have turned a delinquent. luck. 235). . one sums up his views: The role of the lucky breakin what are generallyviewed as successfulcareershas been accounts. the year in which I started at workin Boston. or similar concepts receives little direct. Kaufman elucidates the final sentence in this quotation by hypothesizing that "even if leadersdo appearto be as importantas conventionalopinions hold them to be. p. 3). space. but are incomprehensiblefor some critical period of time" (p. and chance will thereforeremain the main factor in organizational survival"(p. Over the years dozens of people have askedhow I got into the professional assertedthateverymore specifically. Of the 20 autobiogsix explicitly state the importanceof chance at certaincriticaltimes in their lives. by By the luck that seems to come my way at crucialtimes. . explicit attentionin currentsociological theory or research." or system. Among the eight references to luck in autobiography this book. . the quality of leadershipwill neverthelessprove to be randomlyratherthan systematicallydistributed among organizations. p. our emphasis). political scientist HerbertKaufman.This neglecthas been and in underplayed manybiographical autobiographical with the impactof culturaland structural as often noted. instances whicha particular into The in act or event seems to determinethe furtherhistory of the individuallife are endless (1942. At this point. Citationsfrom two individuals' reportsare illustrative: worldand. 150). they themselvesoccurby chance(1991. Page. markedthe beginningof a new administration the law school of the then privateUniversityof Buffalo (Riesman1990. 43). p. 180.sumarizeshis book Time. and concluded that chance is the principal factor in long organizational life. p. raphies. Here we have an ambiguous case: are such occurrences always simply the productsof incompleteknowledge.I have repeatedly thinghappened accident(Cressey1990. found them wanting. This point is evident in a recent of collection of intellectualautobiographies well-known sociologists. and military systems (and the organizationsthat administerthem) are markedby virtually inevitable "normal. by preoccupation encouraged. 1936. forces upon individuallives (1982. Although the use of chance. A much more extensive concern with luck is shown by Charles H. I appraised the major explaI contended nations(skill. In Normal Accidents (1984). Such occurrences arise from "interactions [within the systems] that are not only unexpected. or arethey trulychance occurrences? Anotherorganizational theorist. 9). p. and Organizationsin the following statement: In accounting for the longevity of old organizations.. Chance.into my sociologicalspecialty. at least in their own lives.. let us interpolate a curious fact about contemporarysociology and sociologists. 179). whose bears the subtitleA LuckyJourney. Charles Perrow tells us that complex industrial.

Mead (1959. Snow. contending that no events are inherently uncaused and unpredictable. or simply perform them. as did HerbertG.or free will.g. participants and 1978) theirrelationships behaviorratherthanmerely organizations"negotiate" (Strauss "emergentnorms"(Turner adheringto organizationalnorms or other externalconstraints. of speaking of agents as causing their own acts.g. Using these premises. individuals engage in "role making"(Turner1962) ratherthan simply role taking in and role playing.We agree with Taylor (1983. interpersonal. Zurcher. Thus the foremost progenitorof symbolic interactionism. is not derived entirely from antecedentevents or experiences.they state that three closely intertwined propositions. initiate them. even moments before. 315). emergent often explainwhatlast year's theoriescouldn't(1966. and Killian 1987. that they originate them. Such conduct.While theoriesthana traitof the phenomena of morea characteristic current some properties collective phenomena of may indeedbe emergentin termsof a given state of knowledge . p. Lest readersinfer that emergence.Catton illustratesthis point: to often attributed "collectivephenomena" . is central to such attention. voluntarism. everyday process of thinkingthat may help us to understandwhy some sociologists remainoutragedby any hint of indeterminacyin the social realm. Blumer (1969).and intergrouplevels of conduct: in the performanceof social roles.the This year'stheories of character the collectivephenomena may be diminished. "is not merely the expression or productof people's personalitiesor of conditions antecedent to the given situation"(p. e. p. novel social forms (e. construingthem retrospectivelyas determined.. After the occurrenceof greatly unexpected events-whether merely unpredictedor inherentlyunpredictable-human beings tend to symbolically reconstructthe events. unpredictable-chance-behavior on both the individualand the collective level. the propertyof "emergence" may be themselves. they believe." . The concept of attentionto the sometimes consequential "emergence. Meltzer and Manis (1992) point out that emergence.and Peters 1981) arise frequentlyin collective behavior. drew attention. . interactionistshave specified numerousmanifestationsof emergence. These propositionsare that 1) human beings play an active role in shaping their own conduct. 49).. . . as knowledgeof the constituentphenomenaimproves. who asserts: "Instead . 2) human consciousness involves a creativeinteractionwith oneself.George HerbertMead (1934. p."with its assumptionsof human agency. to the familiar experience of finding that one's actual behavior in given situationsmay differ from what one expected to do. 14) describes a common.thereforeis caused behavior (and not chance). and say. 177).accepted as truismsby emergentistsymbolic interactionists. p.This postdictive thought process supportsthe widely (and deeply) instilled scientific postulates of universalcausality.. 366). even despite personal experiences that appearto confirm it. we enter a demurrer. and 3) humanbeings constructtheirbehaviorin the course of its execution. . symbolic interactionists role of chance in humanaffairs. which are testable chiefly through everyday experiences. it would perhaps be better to use anotherword entirely. as purposefuland self-directedbehavior.CHANCE IN HUMAN AFFAIRS 51 have devoted much explicit In contrastwith most sociologists. innovative patterns. . . the occurrenceof novel.and regularity. predictability. social movements) emerge constantly in modem societies and cultures. even in situationsmarkedby coercion or unequalpower.help to account for emergence as an aspect of social life. Insistent deterministsreject the idea of emergence and of other terms denoting sheer chance. Further. Other manifestationsdescribed by interactionistsinclude the following actions on the individual.

. p. 82). the rise of feminism. Everett C. as we have emphasized. for example.HowardS. Hence such events commonly are regardedsimply as exceptional cases.Certain mustbe moreimportant thanothers.52 SOCIOLOGICAL THEORY Contributorsto symbolic interactionismalso have helped to develop the literatureof social contingencies. including sociology." The black revolution. unpredictability. the other-less commonly acknowledgedand hence emphasizedhere-implies an irreduciblerandomness as ontological.. the collapse of European communism. Hughes (1958) dealt with occupational career contingencies (e. in the lattersense.Further.g. Still another type of contingency has been studied by systems theorist NorbertWiener on organizational WalterBuckley.which is the same thing internal inderdependencies is as saying that the internalinterdependence not complete. who approvinglyquotes mathematician contingency.g. of specific cases of such discoveries (e. 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 discovery of quarksby physicists). Merton's (1977) concept of the "serendipity. Now it is time to suggest some implicationsof this material. by various fields of knowledge.and that the determination of of certainquantities the systemleaves otherswith the chanceto vary (Buckley 1967. OF THE IMPLICATIONS CHANCE FOR SOCIOLOGY Thus far we have considereda numberof aspectsof chance thathave engaged sociologists' attention. Thus. The above-mentionedexpressions of chance in human affairs are relatively clear-cut examples of its ontological form. the enormous growth of the American national debt. and Erving Goffman (1961) examined contingencies in the moral career of the mental patient. of transformations the twentiethcenturythat were not We have in mind several structural foreseen by the "experts. and irregularity. In view of sociologists' concern about the formulationof generalizations-statements of uniformities or regularities-it is not surprisingthat chance events typically escape their attention. We mentionthis concept in connectionwith the fact that it has stimulatedmuch discussion and has prompteda numberof descriptions. We have characterizedchance events as those exhibiting acausality. "being in the right place at the righttime"). insignificantin themselves. One derives from current ignorance of causes that may be involved. A final sphere of fortuitous events relates to Robert K. In additionwe can list some frequentlynoted instances of recent large-scale social changes that may or may not constitutepurely chance events. Then we listed illustrationsof the recognitionof chance." basis for fortunatethough essentially accidentaldiscoveries in science. Note the resemblanceof this idea to those expressed in Perrow's explanationof "normal accidents"and Kaufman'stheory of organizationallongevity. the sharp increases in oil prices. and the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq possibly are examples of true chance. the emergence of Japan as a world economic power. in sociology and in the naturalsciences. as follows: we Organization must consider as somethingin which there is an interdependence has betweenthe severalorganized partsbutin whichthe interdependence degrees. an area of social life that is filled with the possibilities of chance events.we have differentiatedtwo basic forms of such events. Fortuitous occurrences are elusive by their very nature. and apparentlyare peripheralor even epiphenomenal. which . Becker (1963) and Edwin Lemert (1967) studied contingencies that arise in the course of careers in deviance.

we freely admit what is obvious: the distinction cannot be made readily in all cases. Muchthatis considered"luck"is probably operation "knowing rightpeople" the of the and being in "theright"communication channels. Alternatively. Only circumstancesinvolving unknowablecauses should receive the "chance"designation. we cannot resist citing AbrahamKaplan's (1964) view that doctrinal.andSchooling in America (Jencks."Alfred R. Herbert Gintis. We ask. universalregularities). anomalousevents from the scope of science (which they conceive as seeking only constant. Henry Acland. or metaphysical. Probablyequally common is the view. mentionedearlier. however. Jencks reachedthe questionable conclusion that luck outweighs people's social origins. contrary. we endeavorto maintaina primaryconcern with chance in the sense that we have stressed here. states only that laws are worthlooking for here. a first step could be to rule out erroneouslydesignated"fortuitous" For example. David Cohen. we find regularityat the aggregate level-which should suffice for our purposes. p. First. and surely not that they necessarily exist always and everywhere"(p. By ignoringmore of likely alternativesin the interpretation residualdeviance. We contend that a fuller understanding social phenomenawarrantsa closer study of of chance.or event. 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.Porter(1986. . adheringinsteadto Aristotle'sexclusion of chance."As Kaplanasserts. however.determinismis of such uncertain. p.168). 124).On the instances. 262). . Although we distinguish between "real"chance and epistemic chance. adventitiousset of phenomena?To begin with. cognitive skills. it is impossible to discover any conclusive evidence that all unpredictableevents never will become predictable. As Pettigrewpoints out. "Methodological determinism. Jencks's book brings to mind another importantconsideration:the social matrix of chance social events. then. Nor shouldwe judge as chancethe occurrence manslaughter a purely "accidental" of occupationalinjuries where employers have received numerouscitations for hazardous working conditions. 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. however.CHANCE IN HUMAN AFFAIRS 53 more powerful general statementseventually may comprehend. as does Sidney Hook (1958. (1972. 150) supports this view by his assertion that "the indeterminismof probabilityis so reliable and highly structured randomnessseems to disappearfrom the end result. Lindesmith that (1992). is there any practical difference. A more subtle-and probably more pertinent-illustration of this point is provided by the monographInequality:A Reassessmentof the Effect of Family . and education in determiningtheir destinies. p. that despite the evidence of chance at the level of the individual actor. How can sociologists study such a protean. Mary Jo Bane. . organization. some sociologists choose to ignore such events. 1529). and Stephan Michelson 1972). not that they surely exist here. Much of what we write.Such networks not only relatedto are familiesbut school contactsas well . . BarbaraHeyns. Several in participants a review symposiumon the book castigatedJencksfor equatingwith "luck" the residualvariancein correlatesof financialand occupationalsuccess.undemonstrable universalvalidity as to warrantreplacementby "methodologicaldeterminism. and MarshallSmith. After all. the search for chance factors in social life must not be hasty or exaggerated. . applies as well to other senses of the term. it is hardly appropriateto describe an adjudicatedcase of alcohol-related as event.

and otherqualitative. regular. 1982. but anotheraim has developed. closely connected staples of the interactionist approachmust marka sociology that aims to take chance into account. Lowand frequencyanomalousitems do not hold the attentionof survey researchers others who seek to test their theories quantitatively. MortimerJ. 1 Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica. What we are saying is not new.Albert. in Blumer's frequently used phrase. are intended as complements to contemporaryemphases. 55-56). stresses both the precariouscharacterof knowledge and the fluidity of social life. REFERENCES Adler. "ThePsychology of ChanceEncountersand Life Paths. CA: Wadsworth. pp. 1983. 3d ed. Such techniques. p. we advocate greater concern with process and less with causality.and macro-level social behavior-states our position in extreme form: Indeedthe interactionists of generallychoose to shunthe vocabulary causalityaltogether.case-studytechniquesfit these broad specifications. ed. it keeps watch for all relevantdetails. of course. are more likely to disclose instances of fortuityor contingencythan do the standard searches for causes and correlates. in discussing emergence-the form of chance that permeatesboth micro. on the other hand.ethnographic. such as those which many interactionistshave undertaken.. Sociologists increasingly have been broadening their conception of the task of the discipline."AmericanPsychologist 37:74755." Such knowledge includes informationabout phenomenathat do not fit neatly into our generalizations. By their very nature. leave little room for detailed probing of unexpected.one of these staples is substantive. fixed-item questionnairesand interview schedules. They continue to emphasize the establishmentof valid generalizations. Mainstream sociology. Prediction cannotbe basedon a foundation original of in causesbecausethe causesthemselvesaretransmuted oftenunforeseeable ways (1979.and predictablevariables. the latter tend to seek out and examine causal. The Practice of Social Research. Vol. This brings us to our second recommended emphasis. 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. The processualemphasis.54 SOCIOLOGICAL THEORY An importantquestion is whether some theoreticaland researchperspectivesare more likely than others to discover and to consider the manifestationsof chance described above. 24). We contend that studies of processes of behavior in both individual and joint actions. Survey research and related methods. but are more likely than quantitativemethodsto uncover social fortuities. atypical responses. We are convinced that two familiar.On the substantiveside. with their precoded. Bandura. the other methodological. we have asserted. may face a frequent-and valid-stricture of difficulties of replication. whethertypical or atypical(see Rock 1979. 1952. "rendermodem social life intelligible. Babbie. Earl. . tends to slight such matters. Current narrative. The Great Ideas: A Syntopicon of Great Books of the WesternWorld. Belmont. which complements such emphasis. These emphases. not as substitutes. favored by symbolic interactionismand other phenomenological frames of reference. Paul Rock. Unexpected important events are most likely to be observed when the inquiry is open and flexibly structured. Humanisticallyoriented scholars and practitionersare engaging in additional kinds of knowledge-we do not include here such nihilistic orientationsas postmodernism-which will.

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