Experience

(Following are notes by Frank Salter, the principal investigator of Social Technologies Pty Ltd.)

I am experienced at analysing and teaching about organisations, diversity, and politics.

That experience is, I think, rare, because it combines observational methods that combine anthropology and zoology, with theoretical interpretive tools. The resulting analyses have been published in peer reviewed journals and books. In addition I have consulted to organisations and lectured in Europe and the United States.

My field of research can be described as urban anthropology or political ethology. This consists of applying the methods, data, and theory of behavioural biology* to the study of political and other social phenomena, such as power, hierarchy, social control, gender, and ethnicity. While these are conventional themes in the social sciences, the biological approach sets apart my analysis.

This makes my approach radically interdisciplinary. The themes it combines were for a long time considered poles apart, such as emotions and bureaucracy, hormones and authority, genetics and the welfare state. How did that happen?

My undergraduate training was conventional, with a major in government and public administration at the University of Sydney. The course emphasised the sociology of Max Weber and I learnt about such concepts as power, legitimacy and leadership. However, I grew dissatisfied with conventional social science approaches because they did not make use of human biology. It was my view even then that society cannot be understood without studying the nature of its constituent elements.

I studied the connection between behavioural biology and organisation in two degree programs—a masters and doctorate—at Griffith University in Brisbane (1984-1990). My supervisor was Hiram Caton, who had worked with Edward O. Wilson at Harvard and Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Human Ethology. The research culminated in my first book, Emotions in Command: Biology, Bureaucracy, and Cultural Evolution (OUP 1995; 2nd edition Transaction 2008), consultancies with government and business organizations, and an invitation to conduct postdoctoral research in Eibl’s Centre for Human Ethology, which began in 1991. That put my consultancy career on hold while concentrating on academic research and teaching.

In the mid 90s I began applying behavioural biology to other social and political phenomena that involve interpersonal relationships and social strategies. These include:

  •    • interpersonal attractiveness;
  •    • crowds and riots;
  •    • indoctrination;
  •    • street begging;
  •    • Edward Westermarck’s naturalistic ethics;
  •    • suicide terrorists;
  •    • class mobility and reproductive strategies; and
  •    • ethnic solidarity and conflict.

 

Research on the last theme resulted in three books:

1. Risky Transactions: Trust, Kinship, and Ethnicity (2002, edited). Contributing scientists examine the interpersonal bonds and trust that facilitate high-risk enterprises;

2. On Genetic Interests (2003). In the book I study the implications of our genetic stakes in kin, ethnic group and humanity for political theory; and

3. Welfare, Ethnicity, & Altruism (2004, edited). Chapters examine how ethnic similarity boosts public altruism and the social, political and economic effects. More recently I published on contemporary expressions of altruism and how they are elicited, including the welfare ethic and suicide terrorists.

On Genetic Interests bears on ethnic relations, of growing importance as Australia and other Western societies become more diverse. On the behavioural side, the late psychologist Arthur Jensen praised the analysis as “in the elite class of works on human evolution, behavior genetics and sociobiology”. On the humanistic side, including ethics, the late Irving Louis Horowitz, in approving the Transaction edition, noted that it has a “level of philosophical sophistication that is itself impressive”.

Relevant to management issues is recently-published research on the facial expressions of leaders, based on an observational study conducted with colleagues in the United States and Switzerland (Stewart, Salter & Mehu 2009).

In late 2011 I returned to Australia intent on rekindling the management consultancy, this time with twenty more years of experience in field and archival research and teaching in Europe and the United States.

*  Behavioural biology is an umbrella term that takes in ethology, sociobiology, biopolitics, behavioural endocrinology, evolutionary psychology, and evolutionary anthropology.