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On the "desk": Sunstein on group polarization (1)

In addition to my “nightstand” reading, I am constantly looking for material for my classes and relevant to my research. There are certain “go to” writers who often provide interesting books or articles that I immediately give a “look see.” Two of the most notable on my list are Richard Posner and Cass Sunstein. Both are highly regarded “public intellectuals” as well as legal scholars with substantial identities in other fields: Posner (who happens to be a judge on the US 7th Circuit Court of Appeals) is well known among economists, and Sunstein (who currently works at the White House for his former colleague) has an established reputation among political scientists and philosophers.

I have been reading Posner’s A Failure of Capitalism (more on that at some point in the future), but yesterday I received copies of Sunstein’s latest — among them Going to Extremes in which he offers his take on the propensity of group dynamics to generate extreme forms of behavior. What Sunstein accomplishes here is to put in readable form an empircially-based thesis about the a phenomenon (group polarization) that has some real world implications.

In the first chapter he reviews examples drawn from studies that he had participated in, and immediately I was taken by his ability to explain the logic and methodology of the research without having that overwhelm the topic — which already makes this a candidate for adoption in a number of class where such details are often a “turn-off” and distraction for students. But even as important, the range of applications — to US political, to judicial decisionmaking, to market behavior, to genocide (he happens to be married to Samantha Power of “Hillary is a monster” fame, an authority on genocide to whom the book is dedicated), to internet behavior, etc. — is impressive.

More thoughts to follow as I explore another couple of Sunstein’s latest titles….

August 26th, 2009 Posted by | books, political science | no comments