(P8-02) Groupiness and rivalry within disciplines

One characteristic of a discipline is a tendency to “groupiness.” Economists (members in other disciplines behave similarly) join groups that share characteristic reasoning habits. The economic discipline has thus developed different sub cultures. Such groups have formed around economists like Hayek, Keynes, Friedman, Coase, Akerlof, Bowles, Myerson, Greenspan.

Often, in-group coordination (this phemomenon may be a result of partial coordination by imitation — Asch’s 1951 experiment seems to point in this direction) goes hand in hand with between-group rivalry (as suggested by Choi & Bowles). Hayek v. Keynes is a case in point (see for example the “raps” produced by Stanford economy students and made available on YouTube, the first one is at https://youtu.be/d0nERTFo-Sk).

The way in which key concepts are understood in such groups is important for nursing in-group cohesion and between-group rivalry. Famously, New Institutional Economists claim that institutions (and institutional structure) matter economically, while neo-classicists claim that institutions need not be distinguished at all and can be treated in exchange economics as individuals that choose rationally.

There is a hierarchy to be considered here. Groups are rivals and do compete. But they do also cohere. Within groups, members cohere locally. Between groups (at the level of the discipline as a whole) members also cohere because they share a subset of essential economic concepts and concept interpretations. Ricardo’s ideas on “comparative advantage” are (relying on Krugman 1999) an example.

The tendency to form (or join) rival groups is a natural inhibition that we are born with and that is honed by our educations and cultural environments. We find honed inhibitions (like group-formation habits and rivalry-fostering habits) literally everywhere.

The common-sense proposition that the phenomenon of culturally honed inhibitions is universal is supported by both linguistic and social psychological research, of which Sherif’s “Robbers Cave” experiment is a corner stone).

Consequently we expect to find rival groups in the legal discipline – and indeed we do. A famous example is the Hart-Fuller debate. Other examples in legal theory are currently recognized as the groups (or academic sub cultures) that support the positivist (Hart) or the naturalist/transcendental idealist (Rawls) or the critical (Gordon) or the inclusive pragmatic (Goldberg) positions.

We assume that the mechanisms behind the forces that foster the coherence and rivalries of a discipline needs further discussion. After all, such forces are hardly coherent with the idea of an unbiased scientific position. Nevertheless, we think that a mixture of cultural education and genetically inhibited gut feeling does help coordinate our scientific reasonings in practice. Our suggestion is that choosing a side in a disciplinary debate matters. So does having been raised and educated in a culture. It matters in the sciences and (even more so) in the humanities.

Our suggestion is that CANS theory can help to identify the diverse scientific gems that are produced in the different sub culures/groups. It can also help to combine them in a purposeful way for addressing Complex Problems. The suggestion stems from the observation that complexity theory provides models and methods for precisely such functions.


Asch, Solomon E. 1955. Opinions and Social Pressure. Scientific American, 193(5), 31–35.

Choi, J.K., & Bowles, S. 2007. The Coevolution of Parochial Altruism and War. Science, 318(5850), 636–640.

Fuller, Lon L. 1957. Positivism and fidelity to law–a reply to professor Hart. Harvard Law Review, 71, 630.

Goldberg, John C.P. 2012. Introduction: Pragmatism and private law. Harvard Law Review, 125, 1640.

Gordon, Robert W. 1984. Critical legal histories. Stanford Law Review, 36, 57–125.

Hart, H.L.A. 1957. Positivism and the separation of law and morals. Harvard Law Review, 71, 593.

Krugman, Paul. 1996. Ricardo’s Difficult Idea. In: Manchester conference on free trade, available at http://web.mit.edu/krugman/www/ricardo.htm.

Sherif, M. 1961. The Robbers Cave Experiment: Intergroup conflict and co-operation. Wesleyan (available at http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Sherif/).

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