Surprise | There is no such thing as “economized” societies

Roth, S. (2014), Fashionable functions. A Google ngram view of trends in functional differentiation (1800-2000), International Journal of Technology and Human Interaction, Vol. 10 No. 2, 34-58 [FNEGE*, CNRS*].

Abstract: Computer communication is revolutionizing modern society to the same extend as the invention of writing or the printing press have unsettled the archaic or the ancient society, respectively. In the present article, this idea will be exemplified by a demonstration of how the Google Ngram viewer – an online graphing tool which charts annual counts of words or sentences as found in the largest available corpus of digitalized books – allows for checks and challenges of familiar self-definitions of modern society. As functional differentiation is considered the central unique feature of modern societies, the hypotheses focus on the testing of prominent modern trend statements and predictions, such as the secularization, politicization, economization, and mediatization of society. All hypotheses are tested through a comparative analysis of word frequency time-series plots produced by means of the Google Ngram Viewer. The results show that the importance of individual function systems to society features signifcant change in time and considerable regional differences. Furthermore, the findings suggest adopting a skeptical position on some of the most frequent common senses of trends in functional differentiation and corresponding self-definitions of society.

Keywords: Culturomics, Economization, Function Systems, Functional Differentiation, Google Ngram, Mediatization, Politicization, Secularization, Social Systems


Updated version: Roth S., Clark C., and Berkel J. (2017) The Fashionable Functions Reloaded. An Updated Google Ngram View of Trends in Functional Differentiation (1800-2000). In: Mesquita A. (ed.) Research Paradigms and Contemporary Perspectives on Human-Technology Interaction, Hershey: IGI-Global, pp. 236-265.

Follow-up article: Roth S., Clark C., Trofimov N., Mkrtchyan A., Heidingsfelder M., Appignanesi L., Pérez-Valls M., Berkel J., and Kaivo-oja J. (2017), Futures of a distributed memory. A global brain wave measurement (1800-2000), Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Vol. 118 No. April, pp. 307-323 [SSCI 3.005, Scopus, CNRS***, ABS***, VHB***].

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