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Rational Social Man and the Compliance Problem: an Application of Identity Economics

Sir Paul Collier

16 December, 2019



Leaders of organizations usually have only limited ability to enforce compliance with their instructions. This paper examines how leaders can use their power of communication, and in particular, performative speech acts in narrative form, to induce compliance through creating a sense of obligation. In the conventional depiction, Rational Economic Man is asocial; instead I propose Rational Social Man, who values belonging and the good opinion of others, as well as consumption. I suggest that RSM is a convenient and minimal workhorse within which to analyse the linguistic construction of social obligation. Leaders are communicators-in-chief, at the node of a network. Being both heard and observed, their narratives and actions each have specific roles in creating new beliefs. I show how leaders can use this asymmetric power strategically to build compliance by means of a ‘belief system’: an interlocking set of beliefs built by specific types of speech act and actions.

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