No theory forbids me to say "Ah!" or "Ugh!", but it forbids me the bogus theorization of my "Ah!" and "Ugh!" - the value judgments. - Theodor Julius Geiger (1960)

Paul Lazarsfeld

Paul F. Lazarsfeld (1901-1976) was born in Vienna, Austria and emigrated to the United States, where he worked at Newark, now Rutgers University, and Columbia University (Manhattan).

Lazarsfeld made significant contributions to the study of public opinion and polling, and was a pioneer in the use of statistical methods and survey research to study social phenomena.

Lazarsfeld is best known for his work on two-step flow theory, which suggests that media messages are first transmitted through mass media channels, such as television, radio, and newspapers, and then pass through "opinion leaders" who interpret and disseminate the messages to their social networks. These opinion leaders are individuals who are highly respected and influential within their social groups, and are seen as sources of information and guidance.

Application to the management of safety 

If you want to share important information about the management of safety, this can be done through opinion leaders. You can identify opinion leaders within your organization through surveys or focus groups ("who within the organization do you go to for guidance or information"; "about what, for example?"); Social network analysis can reveal the communication and interaction patterns within your organization as well as identify the people who are most connected and influential within the network. Or, you can simply observe people and watch where they go for advice and you can look at which people are asked to become members of expert committees.

Below, a very short piece of one of Lazarsfeld articles.


When studying sociotechnical systems, we now often hear the term local rationality, which is based on Karl Popper's rationality principle. It means that people, in a specific situation, use their knowledge to pursue their goals based on their view of the situation.

In the 1930s, psychologists analyzed action from instantaneous, biographical and biological determinants.

The sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld has a funny way of using the biological determinants of action in his 1935 article:

“These [different determinants of action] are easy to demonstrate in a purchase which is, of course, just a special case of action:

Someone buys a book. He wants to read on the train, therefore he selects a detective story. He is especially fond of a certain author. He is in a cheerful mood, and therefore he spends more money on it than he intended. These are all determinants of the first degree.

We could go on in our investigation: Why doesn't he like to read historical novels on the train? Why is he fond of this special author? What gave him his cheerful mood? The answers to these questions would be biographical determinants. They might lead us, more or less, far back into the biography of our respondents.

The biological determinants are so obvious that we need not bother with them in an interview. Why does he read the book instead of eat it? Goats like to eat paper, but the biological composition of our respondent makes paper-eating uncomfortable for him.”

Source: Lazarsfeld, Paul F. (1935), The Art of Asking WHY in Marketing Research: Three Principles Underlying the Formulation of Questionnaires, in: National Marketing Review, January 1935.