9 - The Production of Consensus  pp. 163-186

The Production of Consensus

By Noah E. Friedkin

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Abstract: I show how social influence network theory elucidates the development of agreements among actors in the six faculties of science. First, I present a formal analysis of the structural conditions of consensus. Second, I develop an image of the pattern of interpersonal influences among the social positions in the science faculties. Third, I assess the extent to which individual differences among the actors in the social positions are reduced, maintained, or increased by flows of interpersonal influence. Fourth, I locate the equilibrium destinations of actors that have emerged as a complex product of the social influence system.

The essence of a group is not the similarity or dissimilarity of its members, but their interdependence. A group can be characterized as a “dynamical whole.”

– K. Lewin (1948, p. 84)

Were it not for the differences among actors, there would be scant interest in their interdependency. Social differentiation sets the stage for a drama (a) in which actors more or less radically modify the opinions that reflect their social positions, (b) in which the actors form, or fail to attain, interpersonal agreements, and (c) in which particular actors can emerge as dominating characters whose social positions define the content of the agreements that are formed. Each such drama has an idiosyncratic period and setting, but the thematic content is timeless and ubiquitous – a display and clash of different viewpoints that become reconciled or fixed in irreconcilable opposition.