A Path-Dependent Approach to Communal Transformation

Reconciling Cognitive and Structural Views of Collective Community


  • Matthew Lange McGill University


Ethnicity, Ethnic Transformation, Path Dependencey, race


Cognitive views claim that ethnic, national, and racial communities are malleable and constantly transforming, while more structural accounts consider these collective communities highly static.  This article considers communal transformations at the population level, combines aspects of cognitive and structural perspectives, and uses path dependence to explain why collective communities are transformative in some instances but much more rigid in others.  It claims that communal boundaries are usually relatively static because communal structures reinforce them through three main mechanism of reproduction, all of which can reproduce communal frameworks through inclusion and exclusion:  cost, power, and socialization.  In turn, the article describes how two types of critical juncture create openings for more punctuated and extensive communal transformations.  Constructive critical junctures occur prior to the existence of powerful mechanisms of communal reproduction and make possible the construction of new communal frameworks.  Alternatively, transformative critical junctures are openings for change that result from the weakening or breakdown of extant mechanisms of reproduction and generally promote transformations in preexisting communal frameworks.  To clarify and support the argument, the article provides a variety of examples and an analysis of transformations in the Quebecois collective community.

Author Biography

Matthew Lange, McGill University

Department of Sociology, Professor


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