New Institutionalism - 17th Workshop Madrid 2021
The Invisible Hand in Law, Economy and Culture

Workshop on Spontaneous Order, Mechanisms
and Unintended Consequences

9-10 May 2016, Warsaw

Organizing Institutions:
Polish Sociological Association: Sociology of Law Section & Warsaw Department
Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw: Institute of Sociology
The Maria Grzegorzewska University: Institute of Sociology and Philosophy

Matthias Gross - Friedrich Schiller University Jena

Call for Papers:
To paraphrase Adam Ferguson, the invisible hand paradigm refers to social institutions as the unintended consequences of interdependent individual actions, yet not of human design. It is a theory of unintended consequences which traces the outcomes and social processes to social interaction or situations of interdependence, and not to purposive social action or individual behavior.

In his seminal paper on invisible hand processes or explanations, Robert Nozick distinguished two patterns: “the invisible-hand” and the “hidden-hand”. Accordingly, in the invisible hand explanation, a designed institution is shown to be the outcome of the interaction of actors having no such overall goal in mind. While in the hidden hand explanation, an apparently accidental institutional structure is shown to originate from intended design. In addition to these two manifestations, Charles Tilly also pointed to the “invisible elbow” – when social institutions are shown to be the systematic, durable outcomes of purposive social interaction that entails incessant error followed by error-correction mechanisms, which are constrained by culture and previously established social relations.

The invisible hand theory debuted in social sciences with Bernard Mandeville’s Fable of the bees – or private vices leading to public benefits – and the work of Scottish moralists on spontaneous order. It is linked with dialectical effects, evolutionary mold and structural-functionalist ironies, and since the 1980s-90s also with a redefined, more analytical focus on compositional effects, tensions and contradictions. The hidden hand explanation is usually associated with Marxist and neo-Marxist analysis of social structure that reveal the real ends of capitalism, or with studies of consumption and social distinction. Eventually, the invisible elbow is the terrain of analyses of error correction constraints and of alternative theoretical explanations demarcated by possibilistic frameworks in social sciences.

In line with these analytical traditions and recent developments, the Workshop welcomes papers dealing with such topics as:
  • Invisible hand processes and explanations (the invisible hand, the hidden hand and the invisible elbow)
  • Social institutions as unintended consequences of social interaction
  • Theoretical streams, conceptual refinements
  • Possibilism
  • Spontaneous order
  • Dialectical effects
  • Latent function
  • Compositional and aggregation effects
  • Mechanisms and fallacies (social selection, feedback, emergence, composition etc.)
The Organizing Committee hopes the Workshop will contribute to the conceptual and theoretical enrichment of the studies of the invisible hand in law, economy and culture (including technology), create an apt platform for revisiting well established assumptions and paradigms, and help opening new research sites for empirical investigation. Selected papers will be invited for publication in a themed volume.

Registration and Deadlines:
Deadline for submitting paper proposals - 15 December 2015
Notification of paper acceptance - 15 January 2016
Deadline for registration (the confirmation of payment of registration fee should be received by this date) - 15 March 2016
Deadline for submitting full papers (for the review and manuscript selection process) - 9 May 2016
Abstracts should be submitted to Adriana Mica (

Please provide your personal information and institutional affiliation along with your proposal.

Conference Fee:
Regular fee - 130 Euro
Members of Polish Sociological Association in good standing - 110 Euro
The conference fee covers lunch breaks, conference dinner in the evening of the first day of the conference.

Organizing Committee:
Adriana Mica (University of Warsaw)
Jan Winczorek (University of Warsaw)
Rafał Wiśniewski (Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw)
Iwona Zielińska (The Maria Grzegorzewska University)