Shaw, L. 2015. Mechanics and dynamics of social construction: Modeling the emergence of culture from individual mental representation. Poetics. 52:75-90

Katherine Stovel and Lynette Shaw. 2012. Brokerage. Annual Review of Sociology. 38:7.1-7.20

Lynette Shaw. “Charting the Emergence of the Cultural from the Cognitive with Agent-based Modeling.” In W. Brekhus & G. Ignatow (Eds.), Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Sociology. (Forthcoming)

Lynette Shaw. “Evolving Homo Sociologicus.” In P. Hedström & P. Ylikoski (Eds.), Architecture of the Social. (Forthcoming)



Manuscripts in Preparation 

Shaw, L. What is bitcoin?: Adoption, co-option, and the robust object of digital currency. (Under Review)


In under a decade, Bitcoin has gone from being the monetary experiment of an obscure online group to the basis of a multimillion dollar financial technology industry. Alongside this rise, the persistent question of what Bitcoin is has accompanied it. This work demonstrates how the definitional ambiguity surrounding this new digital currency was both critical to its early success, but also, the ultimate basis for its co-option by powerful actors it was originally intended to subvert. Using the documented history of Bitcoin, automated content analysis of thousands of news reports between the end of 2013 through the end of 2015, and analyses of quantitative metrics reflecting online searches, venture capital funding, price, and market activity, this work clarifies how the multivalent identities of “robust objects” like digital currency may initially facilitate their widespread adoption, but ultimately, leave them vulnerable to being preferentially defined by well-positioned actors in existing power structures.


Shaw, L. A Bitcoin’s worth: Talks of money and value at the advent of digital currency. (Under Review).


The rise of digital currencies such as Bitcoin has brought with it a sustained disruption to some of the most fundamental taken-for-granteds of modern life – those of money and value. Using text from 100,000s of messages posted to two of the main online communities surrounding Bitcoin, this article employs a combination of automated and traditional content analysis to extract the “talks” (Swidler 2001) individuals have used to grapple with the questions of whether digital currency is money and why it has come to have economic worth. The resulting analysis uncovers a dynamic process of collective sense-making wherein the initial metallist views that first inspired the creation of Bitcoin as a new form of “digital gold” (Popper 2015) have unavoidably given way to broader repertoires of explanation. By exploring these variegated, sometimes contradictory, discourses on the economic, political, and social origins of money and value, as well as identifying an increasing emphasis on investment practice and the development of new conceptual syntheses, this analysis provides insight into a part of the explanatory toolkit (Swidler 1986) contemporary individuals draw upon to structure their understandings in economic arenas and considers how they are being reworked in the face of digital currency’s advent.


Shaw, L. Something out of nothing: a computational model for social valuation processes. (In progress).


The recent rise of digital currencies such as Bitcoin has brought with it any number of conceptual disruptions. Of these, one of the most important has been to standard models of how money acquires and holds value. Absent a backing such as gold or the state, the question of how digital currencies have attained significant real-world valuation in the over seven years since its inception remains a puzzle to many standard economic models. This work uses a series of agent-based models (ABM) based on Bayesian agents to explore how sociological models of value construction may be able to help address this theoretical problem. Specifically, it demonstrates how a reconceptualization of valuation as a process of learning under uncertainty can unite economic and sociological models of value in a way which accounts for how “something” can legitimately come from “nothing” in social valuation processes. With this as its foundation, it then shows how the developed ABMs can be used to explore differences in social versus non-social valuation processes, clarify the high dependency of social valuation processes on time, initial states, and the actions of early actors, and the massive delays that a mix of non-social and social feedbacks can lead to in a system’s ability to arrive at the “correct” assessment of an object’s underlying value.


Shaw, L. Revelation as revolution: Conscious availability and the stability (and instability) of social orders. (In progress).


This paper defines a connection between the cognitive mechanisms which govern the transition between unconscious and conscious processing in individuals and the stability and instability of social orders. By building on prior modeling work that systematically demonstrated how shared social realities can emerge from individual mental representation processes, the present work is able to identify the key role of representational confirmation/disconfirmation in the establishment and disruption of the taken-for-grantedness of social life. Having identified this critical mechanism, then extends its implications another step further to begin outlining scenarios which are likely to engender an enhanced capacity for dramatic social change. This paper then concludes by briefly exploring the concept of “revelatory practices” as collective endeavors which intentionally pursue the disconfirmation of prevailing social representations and thereby instigate destabilizations of otherwise stabilized taken-for-granteds.


Shaw, L., Cesare, N., and Esposito, M. From meaning to behavior: Mental representation, the structuring of social life, and cultural analysis. (In progress).


This paper looks at the relationship between mental representation processes and the emergence of profiles of human action and statement that are detectable via methods currently favored “big data” analyses. In particular, this paper begins with the role of mental networks of association in shaping not only humans’ sense-making in situations but also in generating their repertories of observable behaviors. After delimiting the basic mechanics of this process, this work then considers the implications of it for classic sociological issues of polysemy, socially shared (i.e. collective) vs. idiosyncratic representations, and representational/cultural change. The paper then uses the examples of cluster analysis, multiple correspondence and principle component analysis, and topic modeling to consider how this link between behavior and mental representations can systematically increase the analytical leverage of our existing approaches to the empirical study of culture. In the final section, the paper then offers a demonstration of how this perspective can be used to motivate and guide a “data mining for culture” approach via the example of using Yelp reviews to identify shared patterns of consumption and speech in large-scale social data.