Published online by Cambridge University Press: 17 April 2019
This paper concerns the study of the global structure of measure-preserving actions of countable groups on standard probability spaces. Weak containment is a hierarchical notion of complexity of such actions, motivated by an analogous concept in the theory of unitary representations. This concept gives rise to an associated notion of equivalence of actions, called weak equivalence, which is much coarser than the notion of isomorphism (conjugacy). It is well understood now that, in general, isomorphism is a very complex notion, a fact which manifests itself, for example, in the lack of any reasonable structure in the space of actions modulo isomorphism. On the other hand, the space of weak equivalence classes is quite well behaved. Another interesting fact that relates to the study of weak containment is that many important parameters associated with actions, such as the type, cost, and combinatorial parameters, turn out to be invariants of weak equivalence and in fact exhibit desirable monotonicity properties with respect to the pre-order of weak containment, a fact that can be useful in certain applications. There has been quite a lot of activity in this area in the last few years, and our goal in this paper is to provide a survey of this work.