We can observe the properties of a social group without observing the properties of its members.
The historian, who deals with the behavior of nations, alliances, political parties, revolutionary groups, has been more sociologically oriented than the sociologist. The economist and management scientist deal with companies, industries, and even nations as entities. To study these entities they do not observe the behavior of their individual members but the behavior of the groups taken as a whole, as an entity. For example, a company's pricing policy, its growth in sales volume, its profits, acquisitions, diversifications - all are group behavior. To be sure, knowledge of them could be obtained by observing individual members of the firm, but this is not the way it is done. A contract between labor and management is the product of a negotiation between individuals but it is also a group product.
Given that we can observe the properties of a social group without observing the properties of its members, it follows that we can also observe its behavior, since behavior is simply a change of properties over time. We can and do speak of a nation's selecting war or negotiation as a means to an end. Since we can talk meaningfully of a group's behavior, we can also discuss the outcomes that it does and does not produce that is, its function. (PS 211)
This page was last updated on July 24, 1996, by Rob Sable.