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Frustrated that his explanations of contemporary phenomena—which emphasized incremental effects and complex social interactions—often failed to convince people, Columbia sociologist Tilly decided to write this odd but intermittently charming analysis of the reasons people use to explain events or behavior. He lists four basic types of reasons: conventions (socially accepted clichés like "My train was late," or "We're otherwise engaged that evening"), stories (simplified cause-effect narratives), codes (legal, religious) and technical accounts (complicated narratives, often impenetrable to nonspecialists). He demonstrates that our social relations dictate the kind of reason we invoke in a given circumstance. For instance, we offer more elaborate rationales for our behavior—stories, rather than conventions—to those close to us. We invoke codes with individuals whom we have power over, but not those who have power over us. But these insights, which he acknowledges are hardly original, also seem beside the point. Tilly's true interest lies in how social scientists can make their theories accessible and persuasive. Using Jared Diamond and terrorism expert Jessica Stern as examples of specialists who have successfully popularized their ideas, Tilly reaches the unsurprising conclusion that experts may need to simplify or narrow the scope of their accounts in order to reach the public. The result is an uneven little book—occasionally arresting, sometimes irritatingly random. (Apr.)
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"In the tradition of the legendary sociologist Erving Goffman, Tilly seeks to decode the structure of everyday social interaction, and the result is a book that forces readers to reexamine everything from the way they talk to their children to the way they argue about politics."--Malcolm Gladwell, New Yorker
"[A] persuasive book. . . . It is obvious that the cancer specialist talks differently to his colleagues from the way he talks to his patients: exactly what he might be doing in talking differently is Tilly's concern."--Adam Phillips, London Review of Books
"We need to impose order on chaos, not by disregarding complicated realities, but by understanding what those complicated realities mean for us. Why? is a stimulating contribution to our thinking about this problem."--Dolan Cummings, Culture Wars
"[Charles Tilly] argues convincingly that reason-giving always takes place in a social setting structured by the social relations of the persons in that setting. This [book is] eminently readable and interesting."--Leon H. Brody, Library Journal
"Tilly gives us . . . a good read, a book that calls our attention to a prevalent human phenomenon and raises the importance of investigating its nature. . . . The book also suggests that we sit down and begin to examine the nature of reason giving in our society--why we spend so much of our time doing it, what effect it has on our social relations, and . . . what effect it has on our own behavior and emotions."--Kurt Salzinger, PsycCritiques
"While Why? may be a frustrating read to the social scientist looking for methodological innovation, it is warmly recommended for anybody who is simply curious about the central role of reason giving."--Kristian Berg Harpviken, Journal of Peace Research
"Tilly's book is insightful, easily accessible to any audience and worth reading."--Richard Findler, European Legacy