Installation theory by Saadi Lahlou

Book release

A forthcoming book from Professor Saadi Lahlou looks at how to analyse and change behaviour.

For everyone interested in how innovation and change can be re-assembled with the continuity of the old, Lahlou offers a solid and practice-oriented approach - novel and exciting!

 The first chapter of the book is available to you free of charge.

Installation Theory: The Societal Construction and Regulation of Behaviour by Professor Saadi Lahlou (due to be released in late 2017) provides researchers and practitioners a simple and powerful framework to analyse and change behaviour.

Saadi Lahlou's public lecture on Installation Theory Saadi Lahlou's public lecture on Installation Theory


Informed by a wide range of empirical evidence, it includes an accessible synthesis of former theories (ecological psychology, activity theory, situated action, distributed cognition, social constructionism, actor-network theory and social representations).

“Installations” are the familiar, socially constructed, apparatuses which elicit, enable, scaffold and control –and make predictable most of our “normal” behaviour; from shower-cabins or airport check-ins to family dinners, classes or hospitals. The book describes their threefold structure with a new model enabling systematic and practical analysis of their components.

It details the mechanisms of their construction, resilience and evolution, illustrated with dozens of examples, from restaurants to nuclear plant operation. The book also provides a detailed analysis of the processes of creation and selection of innovations, proposing a model for the maintenance and evolution of social systems.


Praise for Installation Theory:

Installation theory: An impressive, powerful synthesis and a bold, wide-encompassing theory that any social scientist will need to consider.

Claude Fischler, National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), Paris.


“Lahlou presents a bold and innovative theory of social stability and change. At the centre is a multi-level model analysing the opportunities and constraints on behaviour of the physical, institutional and psychological environments. The many implications for, and examples of, behaviour change remind me of Kurt Lewin’s dictum “there is nothing so practical as good theory”

Professor George Gaskell, London School of Economics and Political Science


“Installation Theory offers an ambitious, wholly original, and timely contribution to social science’s engagement in rapidly changing, technologically driven lifeworlds. Lahlou brings to his theoretical framework an extraordinary transdisciplinary skill set (social psychology, biology, statistics, economics, cognitive science, industrial engineer, management, to name a few). Installation theory is new to me, as it will be to most readers, but the framework is worth opening the intellectual door. The paradigm assembles subjective, material, and institutional affordances of socio-technical devices to explain how coordination of human behavior is induced, sustained, and transformed and offers practical insight into pressing design roadblocks to achieving health, civic, and economic goals.”

Elinor Ochs, Distinguished Professor, UCLA


“In every area of science, the choices made concerning the boundaries of the unit of analysis have fundamental implications and crucial consequences. Boundaries are often a matter of disciplinary tradition and that continues to challenge interdisciplinary research. Gregory Bateson wisely advises that one should bound the unit so that things are not left inexplicable. In cognitive science we have too often ignored Bateson’s advice and as a result left much inexplicable. For example, for far too long we bounded cognition as something that happens exclusively in the head. Ignoring that thinking happens in the world as well as in the head, that we think with things, with our bodies, with marks on paper, and with other people, and that cognition is a distributed socially situated activity that exploits the extraordinary facilities of culture, language, representational media, and embodied interaction with the world.

"Professor Saadi Lahlou in his book Installation Theory: The Societal Construction and Regulation of Behaviour proposes installation as the unit of analysis. He convincingly takes the reader on an extraordinarily broad journey demonstrating how installations are created at multiple levels: arising from the affordances of the material world, the interpretative systems we employ in our embodied interaction with the world and with others, and the social and cultural institutions of society. He provides a fascinating account, drawing on his extensive background in capturing and analyzing first-person video of people engaged in real-world activities. For the theoretician he connects installation theory to theories from anthropology, cognitive science, economics, psychology, sociology. For others he offers a practical guide not only for understanding behavior but also for action. For the many of us depressed by the current political situation he reminds us that these are human problems and thus not immutable but possible to change. While I am confident that Lahlou’s Installation Theory will be of lasting value for the scientific enterprise, I am hopeful it will also be a basis for the radical changes our world requires.”

James D. Hollan, Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science, University of California, San Diego


“Increasing attention is devoted to understanding the genetic and neural basis of human behaviour. This book explores behaviour in the multiple, every-day settings of social life. By linking the physical environment with our cognitive interpretative flexibility and with social norms and regulation a non-deterministic understanding emerges how living together can be better managed and (re)designed. For everyone interested in how innovation and change can be re-assembled with the continuity of the old, Lahlou offers a solid and practice-oriented approach - novel and exciting!"

Helga Nowotny, Former President European Research Council


Installation Theory achieves an important integration of the behavioral and social sciences by calling attention to a number of obstacles behavioral/social scientists prefer to ignore, by achieving ecological validity. Lahlou's important book is a careful study of a wide range of daily life practices and reveals the complexity of “ruled behavior.” The book will challenge all behavioral/social science disciplines.

Aaron Cicourel, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, University of California, San Diego


'Saadi Lahlou offers an ambitious, expansive and highly original theoretical synthesis to account for the social regulation of human behaviour. Installation Theory deserves the full attention of social scientists for its fecund approach to understanding of and practical intervention in the social world.

Alan Warde, University of Manchester


Lahlou, S. (in press) Installation Theory. The societal construction and regulation of individual behaviour. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.