Travelling Models of Fallible Man

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Across the social sciences, attempts to describe and theorize societal phenomenon has involved great efforts in modelling human behaviour. Prominent examples are the construction of dominant theories of human rationality such as rational choice or bounded rationality and they are expressed through idealized models of man such as homo economicus, homo clausus, homo adaptivus, or homo administrativus. This paper suggests that recent attempts to ‘relax’ rational models of human behavior, and to start modelling man from a more bounded understanding of rationality, have not only led to a more realistic understanding of human rationality. Rather, the extensive attention to the cognitive deficiencies of the human mind, for instance with psychology’s systematic mapping of cognitive biases, has produced an increasingly popular, easily travelling but highly simplified understanding of human rationality as essentially – and unchangeably – fallible. Following Mirowski among others, we see sub-disciplines such as behavioural economics, human factors research and nudging as part of a larger ‘anti-human stance’ in which the idea of fallible man is widely used to disqualify human rationality in the promotion of particular types of system designs and automation efforts. The paper presents two empirical examples of such travelling models of fallible man as they are introduced in two radically different settings: healthcare and energy consumption. We describe how these models are introduced by design experts by way of simplified images, how they inform decisions on system design and automation, and eventually we trace the effects of these models on the demands put on, and the possibilities of action for, the users of these designs (whether healthcare professionals or energy consumers).
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2020
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Event36th EGOS Colloquium 2020: Organizing for a Sustainable Future: Responsibility, Renewal & Resistance - Virtual Conference, Hamburg, Germany
Duration: 2 Jul 20204 Jul 2020
Conference number: 36


Conference36th EGOS Colloquium 2020
LocationVirtual Conference
Internet address


  • Models of man
  • Rationality
  • Human fallibility
  • System design
  • Automation
  • Healthcare
  • Energy consumption

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