Social science research on "initiative"?

Posted by Emily Art, community karma 67

I was talking with a group of friends the other night about the themes of human creativity and ingenuity, among everyone from early elementary students to groundbreaking inventors and innovators, etc. and we found ourselves very focused on the concept of initiative. By this we essentially really meant having a question, idea, or plan and having 'what it takes' to act and follow through on it on one's own accord.

Since then, whether in the classroom or in more a general or theoretical sense, I've been thinking a lot about the importance of this concept and its relevance as a potential subject of research for understanding social action, culture, etc. Who 'takes' initiative? In what contexts? How do we teach or build it? To what ends? Is there much existing psych, human development, or social science research on initiative? Can anyone recommend some major texts?


1 Comment

Gordon Douglas, community karma 549

I've been interested in this subject too, in my case particularly as pertains to why some people act on creative, counter-normative (even transgressive) impulses.  I've only done a bit of searching for this stuff in google scholar, and most of it is (not surprisingly) in Psychology and Business Management scholarship which are not my fields so it's tough to know what is worthy of a closer look. Much seems oriented toward initiative in the work place and/or as pertains to organizational efficacy ; a scholar of entrepreneurship named Michael Frese turns up a lot too. Anyway, a few pieces that looked like decent starting places to me:

And regarding initiative in children (and in this case children working in groups I guess):

You'd think that some of the classic social-psych stuff in foundational social theory might address this too, but I don't actually remember any particular references, nor have I found any going back to my books at least surface level. I did ask a friend and colleague who's an expert on George Herbert Mead, and he said that Mead discusses something akin to initiative when he discusses "self-assertion" or "self-realization" in conduct (see Mind, Self, and Society pp. 192-209). As Dan put it: "It is a bit difficult to give one unified proposition about what he might have said, but I think it would have to do with the realization and positioning of one's unique abilities or personality against the existing set of social relations or norms."

Anyway, some food for thought.

over 12 years ago
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