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Business Prof’s New Book Introduces Social Theory


Whalen mugWith the publication this month of associate professor of business Dr. Thomas Whalen’s new book, “Complexity, Society and Social Transactions: Developing a Comprehensive Social Theory,” he hopes his undergraduate students, too, will benefit, as he explains to them new ways of looking at the world.

A comprehensive social theory, he explained, should explain how society, culture, and the economy come into being. 

According to Whalen, “If we think of humanity as being one with the world around us, then it becomes easier to understand how we as humans form the socially constructed things that we do – things like morals, religion, culture, money, history, language and nations. All social constructions emerge out of social transaction – our continual interaction with one another in our environment.

“Consider a few small groups that you are in.  Every one of them has a unique culture, even if they are similar,” he continued. “I’ve sung in several choirs. Every one of them has been different.  Why is that?  I theorize that it is because the accumulation of social transactions within each choir is different.”

The impetus for the book – to be published on Sept. 27 by London publishers Taylor & Francis, a division of Routledge – began back when Whalen was a doctoral student in the leadership program at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., as he prepared to write his dissertation.

Whalen bookBecause he had a history of working with suppliers in the Far East as a supplier quality engineer in a former career, Whalen decided to explore the cultural differences in leadership styles between American and Chinese companies, and set about searching for a social theory that explained culture and cultural formation. When he failed to find one that made sense to him, he developed his own.

In 2012, Whalen presented a paper on the topic in Barcelona, Spain, where his ideas were well received, and he was encouraged to develop his dissertation into a book. This earlier version of his theory, “Utilizing the Social Transaction Theory of Social Ontology to Understand Organizational Culture Change,” is starting to be used to understand how leaders can change organizational culture.

“I use this paper in my MBA courses, and in my senior leadership course,” Whalen said.

Although it was a bit challenging to fit time into his busy teaching schedule to do the writing, revising and editing necessary to complete the book, he found a weekly, four-hour block of free time in his schedule to devote to that effort. “Because that method worked out so well, I have continued the practice,” Whalen said. “This summer I used my writing block for creative writing.”

The new book, he said, has some far-reaching implications both in business and for non-profit organizations. “Essentially, I try to explain how humans come together and form society, culture, and the economy,” Whalen said.