11/13/18

Joined the Sociology Department Durham University, UK

For those who may not have noticed from Twitter and others postings, I switched academic locations over the summer, and I am happy to say I am now in the Sociology Department at Durham University, UK

Living in the UK and Europe has been a dream of mine and my wife's since our undergraduate days. And so we are very fortunate to be here, as it is a rare and exciting chance to live abroad.  Plus I am now closer to the majority of my colleagues and friends, which makes traveling to see them a lot easier!  LOL!

Relative to this blog, I am also very much interested in how full-time life abroad will influence my work on globalisation and complexity and health, both in terms of my evolving substantive focus and, in turn, my theoretical and methodological concerns.

Case in point.  I am now working on the follow-up to my book, The Defiance of Global Commitment: A Complex Social Psychology -- which recently received an excellent endorsement from Sylvia Walby, who has been a major influence on my work and has done some of the most cutting-edge work in the field on intersecting inequality, gender, globalisation and complexity theory.  So, much thanks! 

The follow-up book, which I am hoping to complete by summer 2019, is called Is the World a Better Place?  In the meantime, I am enjoying working with my new colleagues in developing the health research theme in the Sociology Department at Durham and with regional universities and organisations such as FUSE (The Centre for Translational Research in Public Health) and the Wolfson Research Institute for Health and Wellbeing; and, wider, the UK, particularly CECAN (Centre for the Evaluation of Complexity Across the Nexus).

6/1/18

The Defiance of Global Commitment. An Interview with Brian Castellani

The following interview was between Phil Haynes (Professor of Public Policy, Brighton University) and Brian Castellani (Professor of Sociology, Kent State University) regarding Professor Castellani’s latest book, The Defiance of Global Commitment: A Complex Social Psychology, which is part of the series he edits, complexity in social science at Routledge.   It took place at the CECAN blog.


Thank you Professor Castellani for agreeing to be interviewed about your new Routledge book, The Defiance of Global Commitment. By drawing on Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents (as well as the latest advances in cognitive science, evolutionary biology, social psychology and the complexity sciences) it certainly makes for an innovative, highly original and challenging read. You certainly got me thinking and digging deep into my social science memory and the hidden corners of my bookshelves.

1. As human beings, we are not very good at saving ourselves and the planet… give us a quick summary of your argument about why this is the case.

Freud’s big point in Civilization and Its Discontents, which I develop in regards to globalization, is that our best chance at even the smallest degree of happiness in life comes from the advances of civil society; but all such advances – particularly in terms of social justice – require people to make sacrifices to get along; and people don’t like doing that, as they think they are somehow giving up more than they are getting (which they often are), and so they rebel against their global social commitments; which, ironically enough, threatens the very chance most people have at happiness.  In other words, the success of global civil society, it seems, is built on a social psychological conundrum: a sort of psychic catch-22 if you will.

And, vis-à-vis globalization today (circa 2018), this Freudian catch-22 appears to have crossed a negative tipping point, with many segments of the world (albeit not everyone!) falling prey to one type of unhealthy social psychology or another – and all of it helping to adversely reinforce, worldwide, the escalating fears, conflicts, resentments, inequalities, cruelties, and aggressions brought on by the current phase of globalization.

The result, to go to your point, and which we see almost daily in the news, is a rise in the number of people who are willing to raze their respective communities to the ground in order to satisfy their contempt for the global success and wellbeing of others.  Or, alternatively, how this contempt is emboldening people to actively resist their role in (or the reality of) the global social problems we presently face.  And, what is particularly disturbing is that, while much of this contempt comes from those feeling left behind by globalization (which is understandable); it is equally embraced by those who have benefitted the most – namely, those privileged few living in the most technologically and economically advanced parts of the world.  And it does not stop there, as it seems this contempt for others and the planet (a sort of culture of cruelty, if you will) is becoming a model for living for many, leading to a worldwide backlash against the establishment of a more just and equitable civil society.  But, as with all such stories, these negative social psychologies aren’t the only thing going.


2. Which takes me to my next question.  Like Freud, many sociologists are quite deterministic and fatalistic about the path humanity is taking. While you challenge the optimism of writers like Steven Pinker (i.e., The Better Angels of Our Nature and Enlightenment Now), do you think a complexity theory analysis still leaves the global fate in our own hands? – so lots of different possibilities?

As complexity science teaches us, in any complex system (such as our global society) there is always the adjacent possible – that is, the chance that the system is traveling in multiple and different directions, and all at the same time!

And, in fact, that is what is happening today.  Our globalized world is a very complex place; with different groups the world-over (i.e., communities, countries, companies, etc) carving out all sorts of different but simultaneous social psychological paths.  In my book, for example, I chart the trajectory of several of them – from eco-primitivism and affluent resentment to patriarchal nostalgia and ethnic nationalism to globalism and global civil service.  And for each of these social psychologies, it is important to note, I also explore its counter-force: its opposing social psychology of globalization, if you will.  It is also for this reason that I developed, in the third part of my book, a basic model of global power relations and resistance, based on the work of Freud, Foucault and Sylvia Walby.

And, again to your point, using this model to organize my data, it seems to me that, contrary to writers like Steven Pinker, the negative social psychologies of the world are winning across many domains of global socio-ecological life today, particularly given how well they are “propped up” by the current strong-arms throughout the world – from the global east and north to south and west.

But, the current “wins” for these negative psychologies doesn’t mean things necessarily end there, as complex systems are not deterministic – for example, significant countervailing changes often go unseen until they reach a critical point, as in the #MeToo and BlackLivesMatter movements, for example.  Neither is it the case that these “negative psychologies” are everywhere or across everything, as negotiated progress is always simultaneously taking place around the world.

As such, the current global dominance of these “negative psychologies” only means that the capacity for global civil society and healthy resistance to move the world in the right direction is limited.  But, given the constant conflict on which our global system is tenuously and chaotically balanced, these dominating conditions can tip in a different direction – which is why I think, from a policy perspective, we need to keep pushing hard for various types of “engaged governance,” as in the case of global civil society.  Still, I must admit, at least on the ecological front, I am worried, as time is not on our side.


3. You are inspired a lot by Freud, who is central to your book and argument. Do you think he was actually a complexity theorist without knowing it?

No, I don’t.  Freud was very much part of the grand narrative tradition of industrialized modernity, seeking to create a single model that explained the full of human psychology.  And that goal, more than anything, blinded him to the complexities of human existence.
The same problem of embracing complexity seems true for a lot of public policy today – which is why applied research centres and networks, such as CECAN, are so important: they are advancing the field to improve its capacity to evaluate and, in turn, develop public policies that are more sensitive to initial conditions, path dependencies, the nexus of things, and the multiple and different trajectories along which the impact of a policy flows.


4. Relative to your point, do you see your work, then, as a normative turn in complexity theory, to assist its move from the sciences into the social sciences?
Yes I do.  For me, Byrne and Callaghan’s, Complexity Theory and the Social Sciences: The State of the Art, is the first real push to go beyond a sales pitch for complexity – which was very important! – to saying, “Okay, we’ve got all of this complexity science stuff, so what are we to make of it?  How does it actually help us get on with the job of doing social science?”

Of course, you had others, particularly during the late 1900s, seeking to establish a normative social complexity, such as Edgar Morin and his distinction between restrictive and general complexity – as well as, for example, the work of Talcott Parsons and Niklas Luhmann in sociology, and Paul Cilliers in philosophy, and Peter Checkland in managerial studies.  But all of these approaches, despite their brilliance, ignore three important issues that I have sought to bring forth in my work:

First, there is the role of power relations and conflict in complex systems.  There is little in complexity science today, for example, that addresses power, particularly its negative states, as in the case of domination, exploitation, oppression, cruelty, aggression, etc – which is why my work leans so heavily on Foucault.  The same is true of conflict: you do not see complexity scientists studying conflict in complex networks, for example, as it is not part of the vocabulary of physics and computer science. Which is why I turned to Immanuel Wallerstein and, more important, to Sylvia Walby, who does an absolutely brilliant job of integrating intersectionality theory and feminism with complexity science and globalization studies.

Second, there is the role of social psychology in complex systems.  For example, other than Manuel Castells, there is little work on identity and its links to complex systems, let alone the role of group conflict or in-group/out-group behaviour.  The only exception is agent-based modeling, which does an excellent job with swarm behaviour, predator-prey models, social segregation, economic competition, contagions in networks, and so forth.  But, still, a lot more could be done to incorporate the work of symbolic interactionism, for example, into complexity science models – all of which is why, in my work, I sought to develop (and argued for) a social psychology of globalization and, more specifically, a social psychology of policy research.  More specifically, I argued for a mental health model of globalization; which takes me to my next point.

Third is the role of psychology in complex systems.  Type in the words “complexity” and “psychology” in Google, for example, and you will get next to nothing.  It is as if the two fields don’t know that, presently, each the other exists.  The only exception, today, is in cognitive science and the embodied mind literature, given their strong links to the work of Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela and the fields of distributed artificial intelligence and cybernetics.  And that is particularly upsetting, given that many of the systems science founders – such as Margaret Mead, Anatol Rapoport, Kurt Koffka, Murray Bown and Gregory Bateson – made such important advances in a “systems” approach to psychology, including the development of family systems theory and gestalt psychology.

As such, in terms of establishing a normative social complexity, I see my work as both an advance and a rapprochement, insomuch as I have tried to link a complex systems view of the world with the inner psychic life of humans, including their primitive paleomammalian emotions, cognitive biases, irrationalities, anxieties, aggressions, embodied minds, psychopathologies and personalities; as well as their social psychologies and power relations and group-based conflicts.


5. As you just demonstrated, your work spans many disciplines, but notably the domains of sociology and psychology. You have a dialogue with social psychology that is philosophical and macro social (in terms of the role of the individual).  Is there a place, then, for social psychology in policy?

Absolutely!  We don’t discuss it much, but the social psychology and mental health of a community is just as important as its economic and political wellbeing.  And, just like the psychology of an individual, the mental health (and healthy awareness) of a community can become dysfunctional, particularly in the face of widespread change – as we see with globalization today – and in the face of the escalating conflicts, fears, resentments and aggressions that often surround it, as I just mentioned.

Equally Important, when the mental health of a community becomes problematic, people fall prey to feel-good decisions and unhealthy choices – as well as the political strongarms of the world – which seem, on the face of it, self-preserving, but are often, in the long-run, not good.  We see this, for example, in the growing embraces of ethnic nationalism, global capitalism, the fight against ecological preservation, and the negative reactions against the civil rights of women, ethnic minorities, refugees, and the LGBT communities.

The challenge, then, is to counteract this pathology by improving the mental health (and healthy outlook) of communities – hence the role of global civil society and public policy.  And, it is important, to point out, we already have good models for doing this work.  They come from the fields of community and public health, which have always been in the business of developing (and evaluating) policies that seek to improve the mental and physical wellbeing of communities.  And, given such transformative goals, these fields have always had to deal with politics, power, and conflicts, as well as the emotional irrationalities and cognitive biases and social psychologies of people.  So, it has been and can be (and also very much needs to be) done.


6. I grew up in an age of cognitive social psychology and was inducted in applied social practice concepts like self-efficacy, self-esteem, locus of control, learned hopelessness, etc…  It did get very frustrating trying to make these concepts relevant in therapeutic practice. Is there any place left for such social psychology?

I was raised in the same era of thinking and, like you, found the clinical utility of these concepts problematic.  Still, I think that out of these ideas the social sciences have evolved significantly.
For example, cognitive science and the sociology of emotions have helped us make major strides in understanding the highly irrational and biased ways that the human mind and social groups work. 

And, in turn, identity theory has proven very useful in demonstrating the significant role that social support plays in self-efficacy and psychological development – particularly as linked with LGBT and gender studies.  The same is true of intersectionality theory, which has demonstrated how the mental health of individuals is significantly impacted by the larger organizational, geo-spatial and societal arrangements in which they are situated – as well as the corrosive impact that institutional racism and economic discrimination have on self-esteem, locus of control, etc.  And, finally, there is the stress and coping literature and the social psychology of healthy behaviours.  So, yeah, I think there is still a place for these ideas.


7. The philosophical conclusion of your research is that we need to communicate a clear and simple concept of global collectivism and commitment, ‘loving others as ourselves’. And that this needs to become a totalising, dominant logic.  Does this have implications for how we teach and communicate social science, in that there is no point in a hyperrational and empirical approach – if we have no normative guide for our student’s journey?

Being so heavily influenced by Foucault, I am not sure I would say my usage of the term “love” is a totalizing discourse or logic.  Instead, I think it points to the positive role that socialization, in all of its various cultural and political forms, has on the psychology of people, mainly through the inscription of morals and mores and values and beliefs.  And I think Freud’s point was similar: the psychological absurdity of loving others, including our enemies, is his therapeutic challenge to the catch-22 of our human existence – which I discussed earlier, in regards to your first question.  In other words, the only real counter-point to the defiance of our social commitments, at least at the psychological level, is to socialize people to better manage themselves and to see the value in it.

For Foucault, the word “love” is translated into “care” and, in turn, leads him to a meditation on how communities – historically speaking – have variously thought it best to care for ourselves and others; as in the great Delphic precept, “to take care of yourself; or to be concerned, to take care of yourself.”

And, as Foucault demonstrates throughout his writings, through such meditations society is constantly up against such key sociological questions such as: How does love or care translate into justice?  And, what is being just?  And, what is a just community or society?  For example, in the policy realm, these mediations lead to such questions as: What is a just social policy?  Or, what constitutes equity or parity on the part of a government or some piece of legislation?  And, should governments and policy makers even be in the business of being just?  Which, in turn, leads to the examination of such core sociological themes as domination and exploitation and inequality and so forth.

Related – and to the main point of your question – in our era, one such way we think it “best” to examine issues of care and social justice in social policy is through the lens of social science.  That is our normative approach; or at least the one in which I was trained.  For example, as colleagues, you and I both place emphasis on developing data-driven policies and procedures, which seek to procure the best possible results for the greatest good, etc; as well as identifying evidence-based outcomes and effective methods and measures of utility.  And, as applied researchers, we put equal emphasis on being reasonably objective or at least as true to the data as possible; as well as teaching our students to be up front about their methodological limitations and sharing results, etc.  In similar fashion, as social scientists I think we both place pride on being professional in our work.

However, we also know as sociologists, policies (including the normative social science upon which they are based) are often governed by deeply irrational, dysfunctional and non-therapeutic purposes and desires, and that relations of power are everywhere in policy; and that bad things can (and often do) come from good intentions.  We also know how patriarchy and racism and cruelty and economic aggression and fear and resentment, as well as emotional and psychological dysfunction, infiltrate the discursive fabric of our policies and procedures.  Alternatively, pace Durkheim and cultural anthropology, we also know that the socialization of our individual and cultural super-egos, along with teaching morality and social norms, can work to counteract these forces.  So, I think that, as a normative guide, social science give us the best tools for doing our work in a caring way.  And so I would continue to advocate for them….  Anyway, that gives a sense of it.


8. Your father was a big influence as a minister of religion, did you ever think about taking a similar path?

Not in terms of religion, as I have always been largely secular in my views.  But, in terms of social justice, absolutely!  I think all of my work – be it as a therapist, researcher or teacher – has had, as its primary theme, the issue of social justice, which was what my father was all about!


9. What is your next academic focus, any previews for your next book!

I am already working on a follow-up to my current book, as there are a number of questions that my book raised that I want to address.  First, how is social justice becoming hostage to identity politics, such that so many people struggle, today, to endorse the human rights of others and, more widely, people in general?  Second, and related, why are so many people embracing a culture of cruelty today; and how does that link to the social psychology of global fear, cultural resentment, nostalgic political retreat and economic aggression?  Third, while I discussed in detail the need for a social psychology of politics and policy, I never really outlined in detail what such an endeavor would look like.  So, I want to articulate what such a thing would entail, mainly by drawing on the literature in public and community health and education, which have given considerable time to addressing the social psychology of such health issues as smoking, obesity, safety, and so on.


5/24/18

How Negative Social Psychologies Threaten Democractic Participation, Policy and Global Civil Society


See my recent CECAN interview with Professor Phil Haynes on the threatening role that negative and unhealthy social psychologies play in democratic participation, policy and global civil society.  The interview is based on my new book, The Defiance of Global Commitment: A Complex Social Psychology.

CLICK HERE FOR INTERVIEW



5/15/18

The Defiance of Global Commitment: A Complex Social Psychology

-->My new book, The Defiance of Global Commitment: A Complex Social Psychology is out!

Focused on recent events at the global level -- from the Brexit vote and the election of Trump to the upsurge of European nationalism and the devolution of the Arab Spring to Chinese expansionism and the riotous instabilities of the world capitalist system -- in my new book (which is part of the Routledge complexity in social science series) I seek to do the following three things:

THE SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY OF DEFIANCE:

First, I seek to outline a social psychology of how and why people are defying their global commitments to one another.  More specifically, I seek to:

  • Make sense of the growing rebellion we see, the world-over, against the hard-won advances in global civil society -- particularly in terms of the rights of women, minorities, the poor, refugees, and the LGBTQI communities, as well as the ecological rights of all life on planet earth.
  • Explore, in turn, the simultaneous nostalgic desire that people, increasingly, have to turn away from each "other" and toward their own, all in a desperate effort to reclaim the things they believe globalization (in the form of "others") has taken away from them -- be this view of things right or wrong.
  • Go deep into the human psyche -- by drawing on the work of Freud and recent advances in affective neuroscience and cognitive and social psychology -- to examine how this widespread defiance and nostalgic withdrawal is being driven by a social psychology of resentment, fear, hatred, irrational sentiments, xenophobia, cognitive distortions, kin-selection, and a lust for power and death.
  • And, finally, how this social psychology -- a culture of cruelty, if you will -- is quickly becoming en vogue today as it is fed by an endless stream of social media, identity politics, populist rhetoric, and the strong-arms of the world.

A SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY OF RESISTANCE:

Not stopping there, however, I also seek to explore how this negative psychology is being challenged and fought against by the therapeutic forces of global civil society and the healthy social psychologies of resistance -- from the United Nations to the #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements.
As complexity science teaches us, in any complex system (such as our global society) there is always the adjacent possible – that is, the chance that the system is traveling in multiple and different directions, and all at the same time!
And, in fact, that is what is happening today.  Our globalized world is a very complex place; with different groups the world-over (i.e., communities, countries, companies, etc) carving out all sorts of different but healthy and therapeutic social psychological paths.
It is also for this reason that I develop, in the third part of my book, a basic model of global power relations and resistance, based on the work of Freud, Foucault and Sylvia Walby.

DEVELOPING THE ADJACENT POSSIBLE: 

Finally, based on my model of global power relations, I seek to offer some useful ways to address the problem.  My focus is on two key areas: a social psychology of public policy and a psychology of love and care of others.

A NEW SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY OF PUBLIC POLICY:

We don’t discuss it much, but the social psychology and mental health of a community is just as important as its economic and political well-being.  And, just like the psychology of an individual, the mental health (and healthy awareness) of a community can become dysfunctional, particularly in the face of widespread change – as we see with globalization today – and in the face of the escalating conflicts, fears, resentments and aggressions that often surround it, as I just mentioned.

Equally Important, when the mental health of a community becomes problematic, people fall prey to feel-good decisions and unhealthy choices – as well as the political strong-arms of the world – which seem, on the face of it, self-preserving, but are often, in the long-run, not good.  We see this, for example, in the growing embraces of ethnic nationalism, global capitalism, the fight against ecological preservation, and the negative reactions against the civil rights of women, ethnic minorities, refugees, and the LGBT communities.

The challenge, then, is to counteract this pathology by improving the mental health (and healthy outlook) of communities – hence the role of global civil society and public policy.  And, it is important, to point out, we already have good models for doing this work.  They come from the fields of community and public health, which have always been in the business of developing (and evaluating) policies that seek to improve the mental and physical well-being of communities.  And, given such transformative goals, these fields have always had to deal with politics, power, and conflicts, as well as the emotional irrationalities and cognitive biases and social psychologies of people.  So, it has been and can be (and also very much needs to be) done.

A RENEWED PSYCHOLOGY OF LOVE AND CARE:

Finally, I argue for a renewed psychology of love and care.  Freud’s big point in Civilization and Its Discontents – upon which my current books is based -- is that our best chance at even the smallest degree of happiness in life comes from the advances of civil society; but all such advances – particularly in terms of social justice – require people to make sacrifices to get along; and people don’t like doing that, as they think they are somehow giving up more than they are getting (which they often are), and so they rebel against their global social commitments; which, ironically enough, threatens the very chance most people have at happiness.  In other words, the success of global civil society, it seems, is built on a social psychological conundrum: a sort of psychic catch-22 if you will.

As such, for Freud (and for me), the best counterpoint to this negative state of affairs is the absurdity of the commandment to love others as ourselves, including our enemies.  Being so heavily influenced by Foucault, I am not sure, however, that I would say my usage of the term “love” is a totalizing discourse or logic.  Instead, I think it points to the positive role that socialization, in all of its various cultural and political forms, has on the psychology of people, mainly through the inscription of morals and mores and values and beliefs.  And I think Freud’s point was similar: the psychological absurdity of loving others, including our enemies, is his therapeutic challenge to the catch-22 of our human existence.  In other words, the only real counter-point to the defiance of our social commitments, at least at the psychological level, is to socialize people to better manage themselves and to see the value in it. 

For Foucault, the word “love” is translated into “care” and, in turn, leads him to a meditation on how communities – historically speaking – have variously thought it best to care for ourselves and others; as in the great Delphic precept, “to take care of yourself; or to be concerned, to take care of yourself.”

And, as Foucault demonstrates throughout his writings, through such meditations society is constantly up against such key sociological questions such as: How does love or care translate into justice?  And, what is being just?  And, what is a just community or society?  For example, in the policy realm, these meditations lead to such questions as: What is a just social policy?  Or, what constitutes equity or parity on the part of a government or some piece of legislation?  And, should governments and policy makers even be in the business of being just?  Which, in turn, leads to the examination of such core sociological themes as domination and exploitation and inequality and so forth.

Anyway, that gives a sense of it. 




2/16/18

Our "Power Grid as a Complex System" Chapter in the Reliaiblity First Newsletter!

Our new chapter in the HANDBOOK OF RESEARCH METHODS IN COMPLEXITY SCIENCE Theory and Applications made it into the RelabilityFirst newsletter.


For those who are new to grid management in the States, here is how ReliabilityFirst defines its mission on its website:
The electric grid is the backbone of our economy, critical for our national security, and necessary to support the public welfare. A reliable and secure electric grid is fundamental to our most basic daily routines and needs.
Our mission is to ensure that the electric grid is reliable and secure -- not only for today but also for tomorrow. To achieve this mission, our team identifies and prioritizes risks facing our electric grid; determines mitigation strategies to address these risks; and develops and deploys communication and outreach strategies to drive awareness and further ensure risk resolution.

Carl, the lead author on our paper, was interviewed for the Newsletter.  Here is a JPG of the interview:


2/5/18

HANDBOOK OF RESEARCH METHODS IN COMPLEXITY SCIENCE Theory and Applications

I am happy to announce that the HANDBOOK OF RESEARCH METHODS IN COMPLEXITY SCIENCE Theory and Applications is finally out for reading!  Thanks to the Editors -- Eve Mitleton-Kelly, Alexandros Paraskevas, and Christopher Day -- for the opportunity to be part of the project!

For those interested, you can explore the book (similar to Google Books)! CLICK HERE. As stated on the book's website:
This comprehensive Handbook is aimed at both academic researchers and practitioners in the field of complexity science. The book’s 26 chapters, specially written by leading experts, provide in-depth coverage of research methods based on the sciences of complexity. The research methods presented are illustratively applied to practical cases and are readily accessible to researchers and decision makers alike.

Yes, Infrastructures are Socially Complex!

We have a chapter in the book, which I am rather proud of, as it really pushes the utility of complex systems thinking and case-based complexity for making sense of the role social factors play in grid reliability. As we state in the first paragraph of our chapter:
We wrote this chapter to address a major limitation in the current literature: the continued and significant failure to address the profound but oft-hidden role that complexity and, more specifically ‘social complexity’ play in the reliability and resiliency of various infrastructures. In doing so, we follow a ‘small but growing trend’ in several interconnected literature, ranging from systems engineering and engineering infrastructures to globalization studies and urban design to green architecture and social policy to ecology and sustainability, which seek to understand infrastructures from a complex social systems perspective (e.g., Braha et al., 2006; Byrne 2013; Byrne and Callaghan 2015; Capra and Luisi 2015; Gerrits 2012; Gerrits & Marks 2015; Haynes 2015; Pagani & Aiello, 2013, 2015; Teisman, Buuren & Gerrits 2009).




2/1/18

The Ontology of Big Data: A Complex Realist Perspective


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Many thanks to everyone at the ODYCCEUS Project for the opportunity to present my ideas in Venice, January 29-30, 2018 -- in particular, Eckehard Olbrich, Massimo Warglien, and Petter Törnberg.  It was a great symposium!

1/9/18

2018 Map of the Complexity Sciences

Just released the new 2018 version of the map of the complexity sciences.  


Lots of updates, with new areas of study and new scholars.  The big advances in the field seem to be about integration and application, with such new areas as mixed-methods, interdisciplinary research, policy and applied complexity. 





Also, in response to numerous requests, I have also updated the HOW TO READ MAP section.

11/20/17

Dynamic Pattern Synthesis for Modeling Complex Systems. An Interview with Phil Haynes

The following interview was conducted with Phil Haynes

He is Professor of Public Policy and researches and teaches public policy and management, as applied to a variety of contemporary circumstances. His research focuses on the application of complex systems theory, often using applied statistical methods. His research has been funded by the ESRC and the government and voluntary sector. He has published in a wider variety of journals including Social Policy and Administration and Public Management Review.  He is author of several books including Managing Complexity in the Public Services (2015) now in its second edition.

His most recent book, which is part of our complexity in social sciences series at Routledge, is aptly titled, SOCIAL SYNTHESIS: Finding Dynamic Patterns in Complex Social Systems.

BOOK DESCRIPTION:


How is it possible to understand society and the problems it faces? What sense can be made of the behaviour of markets and government interventions? How can citizens understand the course that their lives take and the opportunities available to them?  There has been much debate surrounding what methodology and methods are appropriate for social science research. In a larger sense, there have been differences in quantitative and qualitative approaches and some attempts to combine them. In addition, there have also been questions of the influence of competing values on all social activities versus the need to find an objective understanding. Thus, this aptly named volume strives to develop new methods through the practice of ‘social synthesis’, describing a methodology that perceives societies and economies as manifestations of highly dynamic, interactive and emergent complex systems. Furthermore, helping us to understand that an analysis of parts alone does not always lead to an informed understanding, Haynes presents to the contemporary researcher an original tool called Dynamic Pattern Synthesis (DPS) – a rigorous method that informs us about how specific complex social and economic systems adapt over time.  A timely and significant monograph, Social Synthesis will appeal to advanced undergraduate and postgraduate students, research professionals and academic researchers informed by sociology, economics, politics, public policy, social policy and social psychology.


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Thanks, Professor Haynes, for doing this interview…

1. To begin, can you tell us a bit about your academic background? More specifically, how did you end up in policy evaluation and applied social science?

HAYNES: My first degree was in combined social sciences and social work. Over four years it provided a great interdisciplinary foundation. The last two years increasingly focused on social work practice.

It was a fantastic four years. When I graduated, I got a job as a generic court probation officer and then later specialised in developing new services for substance misuse. At that point, I started to get involved in research and training. 

All the new substance treatment programmes had to have evaluation built into them. It was immediately apparent that evaluation was complex and did not easily provide straightforward answers. For example, for the most dependent substance misusers, it was very difficult to estimate which service users would do best with different treatment types. I really enjoyed the research challenge and enrolled for an MSc in advanced social research methods at the UK Open University.


2. What got you involved in the development of methods?

HAYNES: After completing my MSc, I started a PhD examining how to use mixed methods to plan social services. My PhD soon started to show up the severe limitations of using traditional statistical methods for modelling historical patterns in order to plan future services. This took me into complexity theory. I moved permanently into an academic post. This was in the 1990s.

A number of seminal pieces about the application of complexity theory to the social sciences were published at that time in the US, and just beginning to influence Europe.  I was fortunate to have David Byrne as my PhD examiner and he was publishing his important book in the UK, Complexity theory and the social sciences. The late Paul Cilliers monograph, Complexity and postmodernism came out at a similar time.  

After that, David’s approach encouraged me to try methods like cluster analysis and then QCA. This resulted in me succeeding in getting ESRC funding to apply these methods to comparing the social networks of older people alongside different government expenditure patterns. It was a comparative study across several countries. Cluster analysis and QCA allowed the study to demonstrate that there were different patterns within the data and not one aggregate pattern. For example, Scandinavian, Northern Europe, and Southern Europe all demonstrated their own separate patterns, but also with dynamic and evolving changes over time.

In more recent years, I got frustrated with the competing strengths and weaknesses of cluster analysis and QCA and trying to decide which was the best method to use in a given research situation. It then occurred to me, the answer was staring me in the face, to bring them together into a mixed method. Then you could get the best characteristics of each method counter balancing the weakness in the other. That is how Dynamic Pattern Synthesis (DPS) was born.


3. Can you provide us an overview of what you mean by social synthesis? For example, why is social synthesis so important for social science?

HAYNES: Social synthesis is the art of examining social issues and social practices through a more holistic lens rather than a narrow hypothesis. It is founded on the idea from complexity theory that cases and social phenomena are often dynamic and highly interactive with each other. It is closely related to systems theory in this respect. Therefore, experimental and quasi-experimental approaches are extremely difficult to design with regard to knowing what to include and what is left out. Of course, experimental methods can work with replication and incremental adjustments, but that is resource and time intensive and not necessarily the best starting research design. This made me favour initial explorative approaches to large datasets, like using cluster analysis.

There are still limitations. Social synthesis cannot be a ‘theory of everything’, it has to have modelling boundaries, but it starts with the premise that is best to look more broadly rather than to focus its measurements too quickly and too soon into a reduced area of coverage.


4. What is your method Dynamic Pattern Synthesis (DPS) about, relative to this issue of synthesis?  For example, how do you see it as an advance on case-comparative method?

HAYNES: Dynamic Pattern Synthesis starts with an explorative synthesis rather than an explanatory hypothesis (although the latter can be introduced later in the method via QCA, if appropriate). It keeps the focus on being able to identify and compare each case rather than getting aggregate measures that are supposed to represent large groups of cases. It is very much a case based method, but one that tries to maximise the variable evidence for why a case is located where it is.


5. Is there any link to critical realism?

HAYNES: I think the contextual aspect of critical realism is highly relevant. When using critical realism, generative mechanisms and causality are situated in a changing social context. This frames and restricts any attempts at generalisation. It is a realistic and partial perspective on causality.


6. The case studies in your book are excellent.  I found them very useful because of their depth and variety, which helped me to see how your method works in different instances.  How did you happen to choose those case studies?

HAYNES: Because of the pressures of time and resources, my approach to the case studies was pragmatic and based on my previous research with secondary data. I had been involved in some research looking at the relationship of economics with public policy, post the 2008 financial crisis, so the Euro case study emerged from that stream of work. I also have a history of using secondary data to understand the changing demography and care needs of older people.  Similarly, I have focused previously on issues of territorial justice and the differences between local governments.

Probably the most innovative and speculative case study for me was trying to see if DPS made any sense with a small sub sample of micro data about older people. I think it is interesting how the resulting issues are very similar to challenges in qualitative research. It is hard to find meaningful consistent patterns over time at the most micro level. Social patterns seem easier to identify and work with at scale, at the meso and macro level, and that fits with the application to policy studies and evaluating policy at governmental levels.


7. What are the one or two most important things you want readers to come away with reading your book?

HAYNES: I would really like other researchers to try out DPS and to see how it works with different data sets in different contexts. I would also like to see this kind of method taken up in heterodox economics/political economics to reach a better understanding about macroeconomic theory and future interventions in the post financial crisis world. I think there is currently a normative imperative to be adventurous with macroeconomic research, to look for new public policy interventions in the economy.


8. What is the next step in your development of DPS?

HAYNES: I really want to communicate the basics of how the method works and to share the mechanics of this, and to encourage more case studies and more use, and to get other academics to ‘add-on’ to the mix of methods used in DPS. The methodological purpose is clear, to identify case patterns (that are likely to be time and space limited) and what the socio-economic meaning of these patterns is. DPS is not the only way to identify and name these patterns, there will be future evolutions of DPS as a method and better alternatives -  I am sure.  I would also really like to see if I could find and persuade collaborators to attempt to develop R packages in DPS. I do not have the skills and time to do many of these things alone, so I need to network and collaborate.


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