Festivus Art Show

Thanks to everyone who came out to see our work at the Festivus Art Show, held by the most excellent Cleveland Gallery WALLEYE. What a great opportunity to buy local for the holidays and support Cleveland Artists. The WALLEYE Gallery is doing a great job!! CLICK HERE to read more about the gallery.

Also, thanks to the WALLEYE Gallery, you can buy some of our stuff for the next couple shows at their Boutique, located in the basement of the gallery.


Small Assemblage Photos

Here are examples of the 3D photo cut-ups I have been working on the past couple weeks. These are photos that I have taken of family, friends or my art work, which I then use to create 3D cut-ups. Most are small--4X6 or 8X10 inches, so they work in a variety of smaller environments. They are mounted on canvas board.


Odd Mall Was a Success!

Here is a picture of my wife, Maggie, and our daughter, Ruby at the OddMall Show--the art show in Hudson Ohio we set up shop at this past weekend. We had a lot of fun, got to meet some great people, and we actually sold a few things. Not bad for a day's work. Thanks to everyone who came to our booth and supported us. See you soon at the next OddMall Show.

Click here to get information about the show


Complex Network Sculpture

Here is a complex network sculpture I did. I used foam-core, toothpicks, wooden sticks(all painted in acrylic) to create this sculpture. I wanted to see what a network would look like in 3-D. The networks currently used in science are usually compressed into a 2-D space. Here is what I came up with. I think it is rather nifty.

Odd Mall Show, Saturday, Nov 7th

Click here to get information about the show

For local folks, the Art & Science Factory (my business) will be selling its wares at the Odd Mall Show in Hudson Ohio! This is one of the best art venues in Northeastern Ohio. Incredibly great art and lots of "out there" stuff. We went last year and spent lots of money. This year will be even better because we are in the show! Ha!


Network Musings

This is a painting I recently completed that addresses several influences I have been wrestling with. On the scientific side is the new science of networks; on the artistic side is Italian art, surrealism, abstraction and pop. More specifically, my goal was to find the middle grounded between a scientific and artistic approach to social networks. The network in this painting is from my research on social networks in medical education.

The painting is mixed media: acrylic paint and cut-out, 3-D foam core and poster board. The painting is 24 X 48 inches.


MFA in Computational Art

Okay, this is amazing! At Goldsmiths, University of London, you can get an MFA in computational art.

Here is a description of the program.

Here is a link to projects.

What is Generative Art? Complexity Theory as a Context for Art Theory

Okay, this is about as "out there" as art gets. I found this fascinating article by Philip Galanter, of the Interactive Telecommunications Program, New York City, USA.

The title of the article is:
What is Generative Art? Complexity Theory as a Context for Art Theory.

Here is the abstract from the paper:

In this paper an attempt is made to offer a definition of generative art that is inclusive and provides fertile ground for both technical and art theoretical development. First the use of systems is identified as a key element in generative art. Various ideas from
complexity theory are then introduced. It is noted that systems exist on a continuum from the highly ordered to the highly disordered. Citing examples from information
theory and complexity science, it is noted that highly ordered and highly disordered systems are typically viewed as simple, and complex systems exhibit both order and disorder. This leads to the adoption of effective complexity, order, and disorder as organizing principles in the comparison of various generative art systems. This inclusive view leads to the somewhat surprising observation that generative art is as old as art itself. A number of specific artists and studies are discussed within this systems and complexity theory influenced paradigm. Finally a number of art theoretical questions are introduced to exercise the suggested generative art definition and implicit paradigm.

As I understand this paper, generative art follows the guidelines of complexity science and, more specifically, Joshua Epstein's work on generative computational social science. Here, the idea is that art is generated from the bottom-up by some iterative artistic process, followed to its logical conclusions, forming some type of emergent system. The rules can be anything--paint right, then left, then up, each turn of the paint being a different color, to produce some painting.

These paintings can be highly ordered or fall into total chaos. One can catalogue these various systems paintings, and so forth. In my mind, Chuck Close's abstract portraits is a good example of a highly ordered complex system. Galanter may disagree. Either way, it is a very interesting and provocative paper worth reading.

Complexity and Art

For the past couple weeks I have been touring the web looking for anything I can find on the relationship between complexity and art. To my surprise I've found some very amazing stuff.

One of the first things I found is a book my the well-known mathematician and complexity scientist, John Casti and a colleague of his, Anders Karlqvist, of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. It is called Complexity and Art.

(Click here to see a preview on Google Books

The book is the outcome of a one-week meeting of complexity scientists and artists in Sweden, during which they explored how artists conceptualize and deal with complexity. In this case, they explored complexity as both an aesthetic and empirical topic. The meeting took place in 1998 and the book was published in 2002. Albeit a bit old, the book is very fascinating and worth an explore!


The Big Duh Self-Portrait

This past week I painted my first self-portrait. My brilliant nephew, Kevin Rusnak, took the photo of me at a family barbecue.

I decided to call this painting The Big Duh Self-Portrait, in homage to Chuck Close's Big Self-Portrait and to Richard Avedon--two of my favorite artists. Despite all my interest in complexity, I am ultimately drawn to the human face and portrait. Painting this picture was a lot of fun--albeit a bit weird, as I have never painted myself before. As you also can see, I very much enjoy self-deprecating humor--not something as widely celebrated in highbrow art as it should.

Here is a SLIDE SHOW of the portrait as I worked on it.


cartoon comics complexity -- or, one big mob

I have always been a huge comics fan. I wasn't so much into the superhero genre, though. I was drawn more to humor, social critique and science-fiction comics. In particular, I was a huge fan of MAD Magazine. My specific heroes were Don Martin, Sergio Aragon├ęs, and those drawing during the 1970s, early 1980s.

For some reason, I have always treated comics as something worthy of the canvas. As such, for years, I have been painting, as well as drawing, comic characters. Most of my work aims at creating complex forms. My inspiration comes from complexity science--in particular, fractals, chaos theory, and dynamical systems--and, in terms of art, the complex forms created by many Asian wood and ivory carvings, and by the various battle and group scenes sculpted, carved or painted during the Renaissance. In fact, many of my cartoons are 3-D: i start with some backdrop (canvas, wood, foamcore board) upon which i glue various 3-D figures. it is very time consuming and tedious, but the result is very satisfying.

I call my cartoon complexity OneBigMob.

For more pictures, visit my website.

If you really dig these images, see my cartoon t-shirts at my Cafe Press store.


Pockets Full of Memories -- Complexity Art

On 1 Sept 2009 I posted on the "SOM for qualitative data" work done by Timo Honkela and colleagues at the Helsinki University of Technology. Exploring Timo Honkela's work further, I found out that he and his colleagues are also involved in the application of the SOM to the world of art.

They were involved (2003-2006) in an incredible interactive exhibition at the Centre Pompidou Museum of Modern Art in Paris.
Here is a brief description of the exhibition from the website--which you can visit by clicking here.

"Pockets Full of Memories" is an interactive installation that consists of a data collection station where the public takes a digital image of an object, adds descriptive keywords, and rates its properties using a touchscreen. The data accumulates through-out the length of the exhibition. The Kohonen self-organizing map algorithm is used to organize the data, moving the images of the objects into an ordered state according to similarities defined by the contributors’ semantic descriptions. The archive of objects is projected large-scale on the walls of the gallery space showing various visualizations such as the objects positioned in the 2D matrix, their movement over time, and textual descriptions. The audience can also interact with the data online to access descriptions of the objects and to contribute comments and messages to each object from anywhere in the world.


Grounded Neural Networking

If you are into neural nets, you know about the Laboratory of Computer and Information Science at the Helsinki University of Technology. One of the Department's most important professors is Teuvo Kohonen, the creator of the self-organizing map algorithm (SOM). The deparment also provides one of the best shareware downloads (SOM Toolbox) for using the SOM--it runs in the MatLab environment.

As I discussed in a previous blog (4/01/09), in 2003 I published an article in Symbolic Interaction exploring how qualitative researchers can use the SOM to conduct grounded theoretical investigations of large, complex, numerical databases. For the next six years, I sat around hoping someone other than myself would find the idea interesting and useful. Nothing happened! I know that publishing on mixed methods seldom goes anywhere, but I thought that, with the incredible advances taking place in complexity science and informatics and the internet, qualitative researchers would eventually consider the idea.

They have yet to do so. But, perhaps the latest article by Nina Janasik, Timo Honkela, and Henrik Bruun of the Helsinki University of Technology can change people's minds.

The title of their article is TEXT MINING IN QUALITATIVE RESEARCH. The purpose of the article is to show qualitative researchers how to apply the SOM to qualitative data.

Here is the abstract:

The article provides an introduction to and a demonstration of the self-organizing map (SOM) method for organizational researchers interested in the use of qualitative data. The SOM is a versatile quantitative method very commonly used across many disciplines to analyze large data sets. The outcome of the SOM analysis is a map in which entities are positioned according to similarity. The authors' argument is that text mining using the SOM is particularly effective in improving inference quality within qualitative research. SOM creates multiple well-grounded perspectives on the data and thus improves the quality of the concepts and categories used in the analysis.

When I read this article I was more than a little excited! I cannot tell you how much time I spent between 2001 and 2003 at the Helsinki website trying to learn about the SOM and figuring out how to use the SOM Toolbox. Let's just say it was a lot and leave it at that. I also cannot tell you how much respect I have for the researchers there. Incredible research; they make their work and software freely available to others. It is just fantastic.

I also have to say that Janasik, Honkela, and Bruun do an excellent job addressing the limitations of my 2003 article--in particular, how I did not go far enough in demonstrating just how useful the SOM is for qualitative work. As such, I agree completely with their critique. And, I agree that any qualitative researcher trying to figure out how to do their work in the digital age should read this article.

Enough said...

Key Words: grounded theory • constructivism • self-organizing map • text mining • document interpretation


Mother & Daughter Assemblage

Here is a photographic example of the assemblage process. In this photo a mom and her daughter are integrated to form a system and yet their differences remain. Note the similarities in eyes, chin, nose, etc as these part are assembled into one another to form the picture.


Reuben Margolin -- think Leonardo Da Vinci meets Complexity Science

Okay, just in case you do not agree with my art postings about the connection between art and complexity science, you need to look at the work of Reuben Margolin. He is a modern day Leonardo Da Vinci! If you did not think art and math and dynamical systems had anything to do with one another, then it is time for you to change your mind.

Reuben Margolin does kinetic sculptures--sculptures of geometry, dynamical systems, waves, etc. it is art meets math.

Click here to watch a great video of his work

Or, you can visit his website, which has lots of video links on YouTube

I am just in awe of this guy's work!


Space Madonna 2 -- a complexity theory painting

Here is a second version of my Space Madonna. The focus in this painting, as in most of my work, is the creation of a multi-singularity; that is, an assemblage of disparate elements (multiplicity) that form a whole (singularity).

Space Madonna -- a complexity theory painting

Here is a painting I recently completed, or one version of it. It combines cubism, abstract expressionism, pop, illustration, icons, and surrealism into one painting, with the focus on my approach to art--see previous post.


Urbino Sociocybernetics Conference Papers

Well, I am back from a couple weeks in Europe where I attended the sociocybernetics conference in Urbino. The conference focus was life on the web, and related to this topic, e-science and web science.

Here is a link to the conference website.

Here is a link to the papers presented at the conference.

Here is a link to the paper I presented, including my powerpoint. NOTE: click on Paper #6.

My paper and presentation explore how the SACS Toolkit is useful for modeling complex systems using web-based (digital) data.

It was a fantastic conference and I met a bunch of really great people! Thanks to Fabio Giglietto and his graduate students for hosting a great conference!


Foucault & Complexity

The past several days I have been searching the web for articles or books that explore the connections between Foucault's work and complexity science. I am happy to report that I have found a few very interesting things.

First, Kurt Richardson and Paul Cilliers (who have written some incredible stuff on complexity and management and complexity and philosophy) have a book Explorations in Complexity Thinking. It is an edited book comprised of the pre-proceedings submitted for the two-day Complexity and Philosophy workshop held 22nd-23rd February 2007, in Stellenbosch, South Africa.

One of the pre-postings is by Ken Baskin, who is affliated with The Instititute for the Study of Coherence and Emergence (ISCE), which originally grew out of the New England Complex Systems Institute's Organizational-Related Programmes department in mid-1999.

Baskin's paper is Foucault, Complexity, and Myth: Toward a Complexity-based Approach to Social Evolution (a.k.a. History). (You can preview the paper by opening the cover in Amazon and going to it--it is the first chapter in the book)

Second is Mark Olssen's Foucault as Complexity Theorist: Overcoming the problems of classical philosophical analysis. Published in Educational Philosophy and Theory. Olssen is at the University of Surrey.

As I come across more articles and books I will post them.


The Built Environment: Communities as Complex Systems

One of the fastest growing areas in the study of community health in complex systems terms is the built environment literature.

The built environment refers to the human-made surroundings that provide the setting for human activity, ranging from large-scale civic surroundings to smaller settings such as work and home.

The term is also now widely used to describe the interdisciplinary field of study which addresses the design, management and use of these human-made surroundings and their relationship to the human activities which take place within them. The field draws upon a wealth of disciplines and areas of study including geography, urban planning, epidemiology, computational and spatial economics, law, medicine, health care, medical sociology, management, architecture, and design and technology.

An excellent website that has devoted considerable attention to this topic is The Prevention Institute. Check it out for more information, in particular their PDF on eleven communities that have implemented programs to improve the built environment.

Other places to explore include:

1. The Center for the Built Environment at Berkeley.

2. The Built Environment Blog.

3. The Built Environment and Health at Columbia University.


Social Science & Medicine: Special Edition on Health & Complexity

In 2007, the periodical, Social Science & Medicine (one of the leading journals in community health science) published a special edition on the complexities of studying community health--65, Nov 2007, starting page 1281.

The theme of the special edition was PLACING HEALTH IN CONTEXT. As the editors of this edition, James Dunn and Steve Cummins state, "While there is a long history of interest in place and health in the geography of health, in the past decade or more a number of disciplines have witnessed an increasing interest in the ‘effect’ that attributes of collective social organization and the local built environment at neighbourhood scale have on a variety of social outcomes, including health, health behaviours, early child development, youth delinquency, crime and deviance, political behaviour, employment outcomes and other economic opportunities" (p. 1821).

While Dunn and Cummins agree that significant advances resulted from the research surrounding the community-as-context model (see earlier post), there is much still to be done. Put simply by me (and I do mean simply), the community-as-context model needs to be replaced by the community-as-complex-system model. That is not quite what they say, but it works for a general sense of the articles. The community-as-context needs to get sophisticated; as it stands currently, it lacks the theoretical and methodological rigor to get the job done.

As data for my statement, here, for example, is a quote from Dunn and Cummins toward the end of their editorial overview: "The collection of papers presented here that sow the seeds of debate, for example, on the role of neighbourhood preference in understanding associations between context and health, is a potential lightning rod. Similarly, the use of complexity theory, given its novelty and its dissimilarity to the conventional ‘black box’ approach of investigating the effects of interventions should also spark responses in the literature. All of the papers in this Special Issue point us in compelling new directions for research that places health in context. We hope that this special issue sparks debate and new lines of inquiry and look forward to its future repercussions" (p. 1821).

The list of authors that Dunn and Cummins draw upon is impressive. The arguements made by these authors is even more incredible. Agree with them or not, you need to read this special edition and consider the arguments its authors make!


Interview with David Byrne

The following is a brief interview I conducted with British Sociologist and Complexity Scientist, David Byrne.

Dr. Byrne is Professor in the School of Applied Social Sciences at Durham University, England, where he is also Director of Postgraduate Studies. Dr. Byrne is the author of several books and a long list of articles, including his 1998 book, Complexity Theory and the Social Sciences--the first book to critically review and explore the application of complexity science to sociological inquiry. His most recent book, edited with noted sociologist and methodologist, Charles Ragin is The SAGE Handbook of Case-Based Methods

Dr. Byrne is an expert in methods, urban planning, community health, social policy, social exclusion and complexity science.


CASTELLANI: Dr. Byrne, thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview. Your research agenda is rather vast in its scope—ranging from the philosophy of complexity science to method to urban planning to health care inequality. If you do not mind, I am going to narrow in on method first, given its wider implications for those reading this blog—most of whom are students and researchers new to the field of complexity science and its practice within sociology.

A. Case-Based Research
CASTELLANI: For the last several years, you have been a major advocate of a case-based approach to research. You specifically endorse what you and Charles Ragin refer to as Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA). First, how do you define QCA?

BYRNE: It is a method which is ‘set theoretic’ i.e. it understands causal relations in the social world in terms of relationships in combination – sets, rather than the unique contribution of single variables. It is based on systematic comparison – essentially an extension of John Stuart Mills’ method of differences. It requires careful qualitative engagement with specific cases as the foundation of that comparison.

CASTELLANI: Of the three major types of QCA (crisp-set, multi-value and fuzzy set), which do you find most useful and why? Or, do you approach the distinctions within QCA a different way?

BYRNE: I generally work with crisp set techniques and actually almost never go beyond the truth table. So I use QCA as a kind of mix of exploratory / explanatory – often focusing on ‘contradictory configurations’ in which the assemblage of elements in the line of the truth table – the configuration – generates different outcomes. That makes me look at those cases for what else is different about them. I see multi-value QCA as an extension of crisp set but it is much more complex to use. I frequently use Cluster Analysis as a data reduction technique and binarize membership of a cluster. Fuzzy set is very interesting and I have thought about how we might use distance from a cluster centre as a fuzzying principle but I have never managed to bring it off.

CASTELLANI: For researchers and graduate students new to case-based research, what is your best argument (apologetic) for including QCA in their toolbox of techniques?

BYRNE: For me the crucial things about QCA are the following:

•It allows for complex causation – lots of things acting together to generate an outcome. Conventional statistical modelling can do this in a limited sort of way through interaction.

•It allows for multiple causation – different combinations – in QCA terms configurations – can generate the same outcome. More than one way to skin a cat.

•It really makes us think about ‘what is a case’ – what Charles Ragin calls the processes of casing – just as important to specify the character and boundaries of cases as to be careful about operationalizing in measurement of what I prefer to call attributes or variate traces rather than variables.

•It really does have qualitative phases – conventionally at the beginning because the researcher really does have to engage closely with cases using qualitative techniques in order to establish attribute values. If you start, as I have often, with a data set of pre-given measures, you often have to move on to qualitative investigation to explore further differences.

•That word – differences – QCA is founded on distinctions.

B. Epistemology

CASTELLANI: Your research agenda is grounded in what you refer to as a complex/critical realist approach. What is complex/critical realism?

BYRNE: The term comes from David L. Harvey and his collaborator Reed. It involves a synthesis of the critical realist perspective of Roy Bhaskar (but the early Bhaskar) and complexity theory. So it says most of the world is made up of complex systems – although see Paul Cilliers’ important work on how such systems are both real and the products of scientific construction – the complexity part. Then it endorses critical realism’s deep ontology of the real as generative mechanisms, the actual as the contingently and contextually expressed outcome of those mechanisms (I wish we had another word than mechanisms), and the empirical as what we as scientists make from those mechanisms in action in the actual. Note ‘make’. This is a constructionist position but one which says that the real also has a say.

CASTELLANI: Why should researchers consider your epistemological approach important enough to adopt?

BYRNE: I would say it is David L. Harvey’s and I adopted his approach because it enabled me to make sense of social causality and allows agency, including conscious and informed agency, into play with the potential for knowledge to actually be applied in a meaningful and useful fashion. Does that for me and I recommend the treatment to others for the same reason.

C. The Complexity of Place, Space and Health.

CASTELLANI: Our Q&A is situated within the larger theme that I have been blogging on for the past couple weeks: how to improve the community health science literature by adopting a complexity science perspective.

You may disagree, but a major theme that I see in your work over the last decade is your rigorous and nuanced attempt to develop a methodological-epistemological framework researchers can use to develop better models of the complexities surrounding place, space and health. This includes the complexities of social exclusion, urban planning, spatial inequality, and the challenges surrounding the relationship between individuals and the communities in which they live. For example in your chapter, Complex and Contingent Causation—the Implications of Complex Realism for Quantitative Modeling (found in Carter and New’s Making Realism Work, 2004) you address one of the biggest challenges facing the community health science literature today: the inability of researchers to create a satisfactory way to address the relationship between micro-level health outcomes and aggregate level phenomena such as the neighborhood effect.

You state: “Multi-level modeling has been proposed as a way of resolving the difficulties of cross-level relationships among individually expressed health and social conditions. This interesting approach does represent a genuine effort to confront problems which are central to the relationship between the collective and the individual. However, this chapter will argue that the approach remains unsatisfactory, precisely because it ‘disembodies’ both aspects of the complex individual and aspects of the complex social systems through which individuals lead their lives” (p. 51).

CASTELLANI: What do you mean that researchers tend to “disembody” complexity?

BYRNE: Disembody is a specific kind of abstraction. Abstraction is necessary – I think Katherine Hayles is great on this in her How we became post-human but we also have to be very careful. I was using Chris Allen’s arguments – which I found interesting, well put and provocative – to frame my own argument. Chris was saying: don’t lets regard agentic human beings as physiological dopes ‘determined’ by the external and their own attributes in interaction. He pointed out that there is real variation in outcome – the reality of any probabilistic form of explanation of cause e.g. in a randomized controlled trial (RCT). I agree up to a point but think that we can move towards a better account if we think really hard about complex and contingent causation. I have written elsewhere about how I don’t have TB despite being exposed to cases in adolescence and having a very strong Heaf test reaction at that point. Too well fed, too well housed, and with parents who didn’t get the disease or die of it whilst they both had siblings who did and did so bred for resistance. But if I get AIDS or am starved in conditions like a WWII Japanese prisoner of war camp, then I will get TB. That is complexity expressed in my individual body and I want a modelling process which moves towards allowing for that.

CASTELLANI: As a solution, how do you think the methodological-epistemological framework you have developed helps researchers to preserve the complexity of their models?

BYRNE: First by making us think about it. Second, by looking for and using methods, quantitative and qualitative, which respect the complexity of the real as opposed to artificial (I owe this distinction to Elias Khalil) world. So always be skeptical about simplicity. It might be there but mostly it isn’t.

CASTELLANI: Related, you and others (such as Paul Cilliers and Charles Ragin) have criticized complexity scientists for making the same reductionistic mistake as multi-level researchers: complexity scientists still seem to reduce to an unnecessary level the complexity of systems. Why do you think complexity scientists fall prey to this reductionistic tendency? How do they get out of this trap?

BYRNE: See Morin’s excellent essay on this very point at: http://cogprints.org/5217/1/Morin.pdf

My take is that the kind of complexity which says we can always generate complexity from simple interactions following for example rules – note always, I have no quarrel with sometimes here – ends up with specifications which ‘look like’ the laws of Newtonian science although of course they are nothing of the kind. However, they are reductionist – you can do this if not in a white coat then in a techy sort of way which makes you look like a proper scientistic scientist. There is a real battle to be fought here although interestingly there are physicists – Peter Allen’s excellent work for example – and lots of eco centred biologists – as well as medics – who are beginning to recognize that they cannot deal with problems of explanation and action without dealing in what Morin calls general complexity.

D. The Future of Sociology

CASTELLANI: Without creating a straw-person, I think it is fair to say that sociologists, particularly those in the main-street of the profession have been slow to embrace or involve themselves in a critical dialogue with complexity science. What is your best argument for why sociologists should involve themselves in the new science(s) of complexity?

BYRNE: Because it allows us to deal with systems without falling into the Parsonian trap (although note that Parsons did have a sense of the complex from time to time). It also is a way towards agentic intervention. My first degree was in Sociology and Social Administration – we would usually but not necessarily correctly talk about Social Policy instead of administration today – and my Master’s was in that field rather than mainstream Sociology. I am an applied social scientist and complexity pushes towards action. It also is a way of getting past what frankly I see as the dead hand of much of contemporary sociological theory. Post modernism is a dead end but I am thinking here as much of Giddens and even of Bourdieu (and I have a deal of respect for Bourdieu). We need to engage empirically and get beyond the absolutely necessary preliminary task of empirical description into a serious and non-positivist engagement with social causality. That is what complexity lets me do.

CASTELLANI: Dr. Byrne, thank you so much for your time. For more information on Dr. Byrne's work, visit his website by clicking here.


Health & Place: An International Journal

While the community-as-complex-system model is relatively new, it already has a major journal outlet, called Health & Place: An International Journal.

Edited by Graham Moon, University of Southampton, School of Geography, Highfield, Southampton, the journal is dedicated to the study of all aspects of health and health care in which place or location matters.

As stated on its website, "Recent years have seen closer links evolving between medical geography, medical sociology, health policy, public health and epidemiology. The journal reflects these convergences, which emphasise differences in health and health care between places, the experience of health and care in specific places, the development of health care for places, and the methodologies and theories underpinning the study of these issues.

The journal brings together international contributors from geography, sociology, social policy and public health. It offers readers comparative perspectives on the difference that place makes to the incidence of ill-health, the structuring of health-related behaviour, the provision and use of health services, and the development of health policy.

At a time when health matters are the subject of ever-increasing attention, Health & Place provides accessible and readable papers summarizing developments and reporting the latest research findings."

It is important to note that the journal is a combination of both the community-as-context model and the community-as-complex-system model. So, it is important to identify the model being used in a particular paper. Overall, it is an excellent resource for the lastest developments in the field.


Placing Health by Tim Blackman

In yesterday's post, I discussed the three models currently used to do community health science. Of the three models, I am obviously a champion of the third--the community-as-complex-system model.

While I provided a basic overview of this model, I did not provide much in the way of references. I did, however, mention a book at the end.

The book is Placing Health by Tim Blackman. A link to the Google Books peek into the book is here.

Blackman's basic goal is to explain and demonstrate (through empirical inquiry) how complexity science improves our understanding of the role communities play in the health of people. Specifically, it explores how communities function as complex systems and the role these complex systems play in the lives of people, particularly in terms of spatial inequality.

Rather than review the book here, I will list several reviews for you to read. I will, however, make one point. Toward the end of the book, Blackman points to one of the explicit ways that a complex systems viewpoint changes how one approaches improving community health. While the community-as-context model is a major step forward, it is, nonetheless, a top-down model. This means that is treats the citizens of a community as objects of treatment. This leads to top-heavy, public health--the kind that does NOT involve people in their own health improvement. The community-as-complex-system model, however, is entirely different. Because it takes a bottom-up approach, it begins, by definition, with an interactive (relational) view of people and their communities, looking at how both effect the other. As such, it follows an action research protocol--people need to be involved in the improvement of their health care and their communities, which in turn, impacts of health of these people.

Okay, I will stop there. I think the book is fantastic and needs to be read by anyone serious about community or public health.

Here are some reviews to read

Review 1. International Journal of Integrated Care

2. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health


Three Different Approaches to Community Health

At present, one can organize the community health science literature into three dominant approaches.

1. Social Pathways Model: The oldest and most widely practiced approach is the social pathways model. This model takes a nomothetic position, seeking to determine how a small set of social factors impacts the health of a community. In this model, community is also treated as a dependent (or grouping) variable.

2. Community as Context Model: This more recent approach emerged during the 1990s and has remained very hot! In this model, community context is treated as an independent variable, separate from the contribution of various other social factors--income, educational level, family health behaviors, etc. This approach to studying communities is a top-down model.

3. Community as a Complex System: The last model is the newest and least practiced. It views communities as complex systems; and takes a bottom-up approach to modeling.

The strength of the third approach is its ability to overcome the limitations of the other two models.

The other two models suffer from a reductionistic approach to community health--community is either an independent or dependent variable, with little research done to explore the "system-level" effects of a community; or, for that matter, the link within a community between micro-level (agent-based) and macro-level (emergent) behaviors. There is also no sense of environmental forces or the dynamics of a community over time--as a system--in the other two models.

Obviously, the limitations of the first two models are challenges that a complexity science approach to communities can handle. It can handle these challenges because this third approach has a complex view of communities as systems--that is, it sees the link between the micro and macro; has the tools to study system-level, emergent behavior; and has the ability to frame how environmental forces and the larger systems within which communities are situated impacts their respective health. Its bottom-up approach also allows it to see communities as both independent and dependent variables (via the concept of feedback loop). And, its bottom-up approach allows it to see communities as both context and composite--in other words, it does not construct a false dichotomy between community and other social (individual-level) factors such as income, education, etc.

For a basic introduction to the community-as-complex-system model, see Tim Blackman's new book, Placing Health.


Complexity Science & Community Health--Univ of Michigan Style

As I have discussed in previous posts, my two main substative foci are medical professionalism and community health--both from a complexity science perspective.

Over the next week I will be posting on the topic of community health, from a complexity science perspective, highlighting key ideas, scholars, periodicals, books, videos, and institutes.

I will begin with one of the leading institutes involved in the study of community health from a complexity science perspective, the Center for Social Epidemiology and Population Health (CSEPH), at the University of Michigan.

Working in conjunction with the world-renowned Center for the Study of Complex Systems at the Univ of Michigan, the CSEPH sits at the forefront of a complexity science approach to community health.

In 2007, the CSEPH held a symposium on complexity and community health. Here is an excellent video introducing the CSEPH symposium, housed at the National Institutes of Health, titled Symposium on a Complex Systems Approach to Population Health.


SACS Toolkit: E-Social Science from a Systems Perspective

I am presenting the following paper at the upcoming sociocybernetics conference this June in Urbino Italy.

This year's conference is all about e-science and web science. The title is 'MODERNITY 2.0': EMERGING SOCIAL MEDIA TECHNOLOGIES AND THEIR IMPACTS.

For those following this blog, you know that I include e-science and web science on my map of complexity, situating them as the two newest areas of complexity science research.

My paper explores how the new toolkit my colleague, Fred Hafferty, and I have developed for modeling complex social systems (called the SACS Toolkit) can be used to manage and analyze web-based data. In fact, one of the reasons we created our toolkit was to find ways to address the growing complexity of digital data.

Here is the abstract of our paper. I will post the paper later in June, 2009.

The SACS Toolkit provides researchers a new informatics-based ontology and methodology for managing and analyzing the massive, multi-dimensional databases regularly encountered on the web today. The SACS Toolkit does this by functioning as an intermediary between the web and researcher. Its intermediary function provides researchers several advantages. In terms of ontology, the SACS Toolkit: 1) provides a user-based filing system (social complexity theory) that help researchers organize and link multidimensional databases in a theoretically meaningful manner; 2) the filing system is also designed to form a complex system—to match the complexity of most web-based data. In terms of method, the SACS Toolkit: 1) provides a novel algorithm (assemblage) researchers can use to model complex systems with web data; 2) this algorithm works with any type of data; and 3) can be used with most methodological techniques (e.g., field research, statistics, etc), including the latest advances in agent-based modeling, network analysis, e-science and web science. In the current paper, we demonstrate the utility of the SACS Toolkit by applying it to a web-based community health science database we are currently studying. We begin with a review of the SACS Toolkit. Next, we explore the ontological and methodological challenges our database presented us—focusing on how the SACS Toolkit solved them. Fourth, we examine the model of community health we built, showing how the SACS Toolkit allowed us to make important advances in the current health sciences literature. We end inductively, suggesting how others may likewise use the SACS Toolkit.


Complexity Art

The above picture is another example of what I call complexity art. The technique is called assemblage (or, alternatively, assembled cubism). For more info, see my post from 25 April 2009.

The goal of assemblage is not to redefine the role of space or time in a picture. Instead, the goal is to pictorally represent complex systems--be these systems a single individual, two people in relationship, groups, humans and nature, humans and machines, etc.

Given this goal, the completed picture, while highly representational, is primarily symbolic. It is an iconic representations of a complex system--by icon I mean here a visual (semiotic) sign that stands in place of or acts as a simulacra of something else.

The above picture is an inconic representation of a mother and daughter. One can see the structural similarities between mother and daughter in terms of their eyes, neck muscles, etc. And yet, one loses a clear sense of who's part is which. Instead, the parts blend together to create a face that is neither the mother's or daughter's. This face is an emergent system entirely dependent upon the nuanced parts of which it is made. The result is a multi-singularity: multiplicity and difference within union and integration.


ASSEMBLAGE: Complexity Science Art

Sociology is not the only trajectory along which I have pursued the study of complexity. In fact, long before I figured out how to apply complexity science to sociology I was working on it in my art. As my geek t-shirt stuff suggests, art is part of my complexity agenda.

The above picture is an example of the type of complexity art I have been doing, which I call assemblage--partially in homage to the cubists and, more specifically, Robert Rauschenberg, the famous American painter.

In terms of technique, assemblage extends the work of Picasso and Braque by going beyond analytic and synthetic cubism into a new area, assembled cubism. Following Raushenberg, assembled cubism takes a complex systems approach to paintings, attempting to examine the inter-dependence and inter-connectedness of humans and the world in which they live. It also treats this inter-dependence and inter-connectedness as a system, where the whole is more than the sum of its parts. How, for example, can one paint two people, showing the entanglement of their relationship, to arrive at a whole; and yet, at the same time, allow the individuals to shine through?

The spirit of assembled cubism is found in the following quote from William Johnston: "When people meet at the level of personal love achieved through radical non-attachment, they do not merge, nor are they absorbed in one another.... There is at once a total unity and a total alterity" (Silent Music, 1976, p. 147, Perennial Library).

Complexity Art--Geek T-shirts

I have been working on a few new geek t-shirts shirts, which people have seemed to like. The whole idea behind these shirts is to promote complexity science specifically and science and math more generally, particularly amongst young people and kids.





Qualitative Comparative Analysis

For those interested in learning more about qualitative comparative analysis (QCA), here is the link to Ragin's overview, which provides lots of information.


As I stated in my post 7 April 2009 post, QCA provides the best option for integrating qualitative and quantitative method into a new toolkit for the study of complex social systems. Check it out.


The SAGE Handbook of Case-Based Methods

For the last several posts, I have been discussing the need for complexity science to truly overcome the qualitative/quantitative divide by doing more work to develop qualitative method. The next question, then, is how?

Of the various options available to complexity scientists, I think the best is case-based method. Actually, the better term is cross-case analysis. Cross-case analysis is an inductive approach to scientific inquiry that begins with a set of cases in order to explore what makes them similar to and yet different from one another. Cross-case analysis is very iterative and data-driven: the researcher develops ideas about the non-obvious patterns of relationship amongst a database by exploring its cases.

Perhaps the most well-known cross-case method is grounded theory, which was developed by Glaser and Strauss in the middle 1960s. While their method is referred to in the popular literature as grounded theory, they actually called it (at least initially) the constant comparative method, which they argued could be used to generate grounded theory. In other words, their famous book title, The Discovery of Grounded Theory was meant to imply that, through the constant comparative method one could generate grounded theory. Instead, the name Grounded Theory stuck.

In the sticking of this name, however, a major feat in the history of social science method was lost. In a paper I published in 2003, my colleagues and I made it clear that Glaser and Strauss never meant their method to be limited to narrative data. The constant comparative method could be equally applied to numerical or narrativel data. Grounded theory was not only a breakthrough in the popularization of cross-case analysis, it was a major breakthrough in the blurring of qualitative and quantitative method.

Here is a blurb from their book:

"Our position in this book is as follows: there is no fundamental clash between the purposes and capacities of qualitative and quantitative methods or data. What clash there is concerns the primacy of emphasis on verification or generation of theory—to which heated discussions on qualitative versus quantitative data have been linked historically. We believe that each form of data is useful for both verification and generation of theory, whatever the primacy of emphasis. Primacy depends only on the circumstances of research, on the interests and training of the researcher, and on the kinds of material he needs for his theory (1967:17–18)."

Grounded theory is not the only cross-case method. Others do exist. The problem, however, is these methods have not made it into the mainstream of sociological or social scientific inquiry.

What is fascinating to me is that, while case-based method remained on the margins of sociological inquiry throughout the 1980s and 1990s, over on the other side of the scientific fence, in the natural and computational sciences, cross-case method was being rediscovered. This time, however, it emerged in the form of distributed artificial intelligence, cluster analysis, data mining, decision-tree analysis, artificial neural networking, the self-organizing map algorithm, machine intelligence, genetic algorithms, fuzzy-set theory, fuzzy-set logic, and the host of robots and algorithms running our washing machines, cars, industrial machinery, traffic lights, the internet and, the soon to come, Web 2.0.

And still sociologists sit idle, believing case-based method is something wishy washy that qualitative type people do. Just like sociologists and many social scientists have sat idle and watched complexity science emerge.

We are out of the loop--big time! Trust me, I am not being dramatic. If you approached the average sociology professor or graduate student and asked them if they could implement any of the above methods I just listed from the natural and computational sciences, and could they do so while integrating these methods with qualitative methods to conduct qualitative, cross-case analysis of large, complex databases, they would probably say no.

Hence the need for David Byrne and Charles Ragin's forthcoming book, The SAGE Handbook of Case-Based Methods. Actually, the sub-title of the book should be qualitative, comparative analysis (QCA), because that is the method they have been advocating for several years.

It is great to see this book published. It is also great that it is a handbook, because that means other scholars are working with these ideas; and the fact that SAGE has published it means that QCA has, in some small way, gained the authority it deserves.

A quick review of the chapters in the book demonstrates the broad utility of cross-case analysis and, more specifically, QCA (click here to see the complete index). There are chapters integrating cluster analysis with case-based method, as well as chapters applying QCA to the analysis of large, complex, digital databases.

The book also goes a long way to integrating cross-case analysis with complexity science. Byrne and Ragin are major social science scholars in complexity science. In my book on Sociology and Complexity Science (SACS), for example, I identify them as two of the leading scholars in SACS--see my map of SACS. For example, Byrne wrote a very important book in 1998 titled, Complexity Theory and the Social Sciences. Ragin's related book is Fuzz-Set Social Science (2000).

For those interested in developing a method for studying complex social systems, Byrne and Ragin's book provides the necessary foundation. In the name of QCA, they bring together the best of qualitative and quantitative method in order to overcome both.


Grounded Neural Networking

The above publication is the type of work I am referring to as an example of developing qualitative method for studying complex systems. It is an article I wrote in 2003 integrating grounded theory method (a hallmark in qualitative methodology) with the artificial intelligence technique known as the Kohonen Self-Organizing Map. The result is a qualitative method for analyzing large, complex databases that draws upon the strength of traditional qualitative method and the latest advances in numerical analysis and, more specifically, data mining.

Santa Fe and qualitative numerical analysis

This post builds on yesterday's Qualitative/Narrative Complexity Science.

Part of my argument in the above post was that, in terms of qualitative method, the major advance complexity science makes is the qualitative study of numerical data. To demonstrate this point, click on the following link to the Santa Fe Institute (the leading world institute for the study of complexity) and, in the search box, type in "qualitative method." You will get roughly 700 hits. Almost all of them contain the terms qualitative and numerical.

You will find, however, almost no mention of qualitative method, as it is understood in the social science sense of the term. This is not to say there is no such work being done. But, it by no means has a dominant voice.

Qualitative/Narrative Complexity Science

For all of its advances (and they are many) complexity science has yet to bridge fully the rift between qualitative and quantitative method.

Before I explain myself, however, some quick definitions are in order. First, by qualitative method, I mean the non-numerical analysis of narrative and verbal data, as typically studied in historical inquiry, ethnography, qualitative interviews, and grounded theory. By quantitative method, I mean the study of numerical data, primarily through the application of statistics and top-down equation-based modeling.)

To its credit, complexity science has significantly progressed the qualitative analysis of numerical data. By "qualitative analysis" I mean the study of the complex, emergent, relational, dynamic, evolving, idiographic dimensions of numerical data. In fact, one could claim that complexity science method is really a major advance in the qualitative study of complex numerical data.

What complexity science has not advanced, however, is the non-numerical study complexity. To date, only a handful of articles have applied qualitative method to the study of complexity. And even fewer articles have examined how to advance the usage of qualitative method for studying complex systems.

The earliest examples I know of that apply qualitative method to the study of complexity were written by Crabtree and colleagues (most of whom are in medicine, nursing or health finance) and their study of medical practices:

1. Crabtree, B. F. (1997). Individual attitudes are no match for complex systems. Journal of Family Practice, 44(5), 447-448.

2. Crabtree, B. F. (2003). Primary care practices are full of surprises! Health Care Management Review, 28(3), 279-283.

3. Crabtree, B. F., Miller,W. L., Aita,V. A., Flocke, S. A.,&Stange, K. C. (1998). Primary care practice organization and preventive services delivery: Aqualitative analysis. Journal of Family Medicine, 46(5), 403-409.

4. Crabtree, B. F., Miller,W. L.,&Stange, K. C. (2001). Understanding practice from the ground up. Journal of Family Practice, 50(10), 881-887.

The earliest (and most widely popular) example of the development of qualitative method for the study of complex systems is Charles Ragin's Fuzzy Set Social Science (2000). Ragin also has a new book with David Byrne (a prominent British sociologist and leading scholar in the social science application of complexity science--I will blog more about this book later). The title of the book is The SAGE Handbook of Case-Based Methods (2009).

Despite being a small literature within complexity science, these scholars make some very compelling arguments for developing the qualitative (non-numerical) study of complexity. Perhaps the best argument is that a significant amount of data goes unexplored when qualitative method is not used.

What, for example, are the phenomenological dimensions of complex networks? What does it mean for people to be connected to one another by six or fewer links? What are the emotional dimensions of being part of a massive online social network? What role do power, conflict, hate, greed, anger, and love play in the complex global system? How does one study "confidence" in a system? What does a state of domination within a complex social system look like? Is altruism within a system more than a prisoner dilemna? I could go on and on and on.

Okay, just one more example: Think about the current global financial collapse in which most (if not all) the world is struggling? How do people make meaning of this experience? And, to consider second-order cybernetics and sociocybernetics, what consquence does the meaning people make have for the way in which our global economic system will evolve? And so on and so forth.

There is a lot qualitative method can offer complexity science. And, there is a lot complexity science can offer qualitative method. If complexity scientists turned their attention to this dimension of method, they could create some very incredible tools.


Rockin' Mandelbrot Song


This is absolutely the coolest math song ever written. I gave a MATH DAY presentation about two weeks ago for 300 math geeks and they went crazy! It is fanstastic. Play it for yourself, friends, profs, and students--especially students in the social sciences and humanities.

The song is by Jonathan Coulton. The video was made by Pisut Wisessing in Film 324: Cornell Summer Animation Workshop, taught by animator Lynn Tomlinson.


Dungeons & Dragons--the Geek Stereotype

Okay, so most of us geeks fit the stereotype--instead of going on dates in highschool with humans, we were dating elves (male or female) or any other assorted group of medieval characters. D&D anyone?

We geeks eventually grew out of this phase. Actually, no we didn't--which brings me to the point of this post. One of my geek buddies (Michael Ball) has gone and done the worst thing a medieval geek can do. He wrote a book about it.

Mike's first fiction book is titled The Stone Men. It is an excellent short story with fantastic illustrations drawn by Christopher Bort. Check it out. And, bewaare, the stone men are coming...


Map of Science

This is a great graphic overview of the increasing complexity and interdiscplinary nature of scientific inquiry. (As a side note, it also shows that the social sciences play a much larger role in science than typically acknowledged.) This graph was part of a recent article published in PLoS ONE on 11 March 2009.

Title: Clickstream Data Yields High-Resolution Maps of Science Johan Bollen1*, Herbert Van de Sompel1, Aric Hagberg2#, Luis Bettencourt2,3#, Ryan Chute1#, Marko A. Rodriguez2, Lyudmila Balakireva1

Great Blog: Social Media Today

When people take time to post a comment on this blog, I always take the time to read about their work. Recently, Tom Mandel posted a comment on "Is Foucault a Complexity Scientist?"

One of the blogs on his site is Social Media Today. This is a great site because it is part of the latest trends in internet life. But, it is also an observer of these trends. In short, it is part of the latest movement known as e-science.

As much as I enjoy the web, I find myself in that endless double-bind of participant and researcher. I am fascinated with the web, and yet my researcher side is always asking: What is going on here? Why am I participating in all this? What is this all about? But, no sooner do I ask such questions when I make another click and go: Wow, this is really cool and I've got to tell someone about this new technology or social network, or blog, etc, etc, etc, ugh!

It is because of my double-bind that I really like the blog, Social Media Today. It is a participant in and researcher of the latest trends in information and the forthcoming Web 2.0. Very good stuff for those complexity scientists and sociologists interested in life on the web and where things are going.


Complexity 1001: One More Question

Another overwhelming aspect to sticking my toe into the complexity rapids is the number of new concepts and terms I have encountered (from agent-based modeling to neural networking to fractal geometry, etc.).  So -- in addition to a key/core reference(s) -- what would be the half dozen or so key concepts or terms I would need to master so I can build a foundation in understanding complexity science?  I'm not sure why, but I imagine myself standing on a beach with dozens upon dozens of interesting looking shells -- and while I can picture myself picking up any one of them here and another one or two of them there -- and eventually working my way across all of the shells -- I suspect there would be some shells that are "basic" and thus fundamental to understanding all shells -- and I would appreciate your suggestions here as well.

Dr. Castellani's Reponse

Dear Complexity Challenged, I would start with my complexity science map. Here is why.

The map is conceptual.

Like you, I struggled early on to get a grasp of this field. It is so amazingly interdisciplinary and scattered that it is hard for the beginner (and even expert) to have a true appreciation for what is going on with the field as a whole. After years of struggling to obtain some type of synthesis, I realized that some degree of closure could be obtained if I looked for similarities across the wealth of research taking place. I asked myself, what concepts (be they theoretical or methodological) do all complexity scientists use? And, how do these concepts relate? Also, could I identify the leading scholars associated with these concepts? And, could I highlight one particular sub-concept or area of study with which each of these scholars could be identified? The result was the map.

So, long story short, I would work on mastering the concepts on the map. That will give you an excellent working knowledge and vocabulary sufficient to communicate with any complexity scientist, regardless of their otherwise intractable or incomprehensible research--hee haw!

Complexity 1001: Getting Started

Professor Castellani:  I want to begin a study of complexity -- as it applies to sociology and to issues of healthcare, but I am not sure where to begin.  I've done a bit of googling, read through some of the materials on your site (loved your Complexity Science Map BTW), visited amazon.com -- and at the end of it all, feel a little overwhelmed.

I saw the link for Complexity 1001 and thought I might use it to jump start my learning.

Where would be a good place to start?  What article (book chapter etc.) could you suggest -- something to get my feet wet.  Perhaps from here I could raise a question or two for subsequent discussion, pick up another yet another suggesting resource or two, and go from there?



Dear Complexity Challenged, thanks for becoming part of this blog. I think the best way to "jump in and get your feet wet" is to take a historical macro-level approach and begin with two of the best known reviews of the field.

1. The first is Capra's The Web of Life. While written in 1997, this book still provides the best introductory review of complexity science and its historical roots--in particular, systems science, cybernetics and artificial intelligence and their links to the major themes in complexity science.

2. The second book is Waldrop's Complexity. This is another excellent book because it covers what Capra misses--the historical development of the Santa Fe Institute, the first and most important institute involved in the creation of complexity science and its most cutting-edge research. Almost every major figure in complexity science during the 1980s and 1990s had something to do with Santa Fe. Complexity is a bit journalistic and sensationalist (even gossipy) in style, but it really does give a good historical account of the early years of complexity science.

Most important about The Web of life and Complexity, they introduce you to all the major concepts of complexity science: emergence, self-organization, tipping-points, autopoiesis, self-organizing criticality, computational economics, cellular automata, agent-based modeling, fractals, chaos theory, networks, and so on.

These two books also introduce you to the major players during the 1980s and 1990s: from Holland and Kauffman to Prigogine and Bak to Matarana and Varela.

Once you have a basic sense of the field, you can move to a review of the methods of complexity science. Here is where things become more technical and less macro. You start to move down to the meso and even micro level, exploring specific topics like neural networks, agent-based modeling, the new science of networks, fractals, modeling complex systems, power laws, etc.

But, let's not get into the deep section of the pool too quick. I would get those two books and read them first.

Is Michel Foucault a Complexity Scientist?

In 1999 I wrote an article for Studies in Symbolic Interaction titled, Michel Foucault and Symbolic Interactionism: The Making of a New Theory of Interaction. The article sits at the heart of the theoretical framework (social complexity theory) that Hafferty and I outline in our new book, Sociology and Complexity Science: A New Field of Inquiry. Our theoretical framework, in turn, is part of the SACS Toolkit, which is our new method for modeling complex social systems.

While it may seem odd to some, my journey into complexity science is through the work of Michel Foucault, particularly his later theory of social practice. For me, Foucault’s work has always been about complex social systems and their impact on individuals.

From Madness and Civilization to The Archeology of Knowledge to Discipline and Punish, what are Foucault’s books about? Think about it. At least theoretically and methodologically speaking, they are about complex social systems! Foucault is trying to understand, in post-structural terms, how systems go from one state to another—from one set of self-organizing relations to another. How, for example, does the care of mental disorders, prisoners, deviants, or the self in the west go from a medieval apparatus of care to a modern apparatus of care?

Given this orientation, could we not call Foucault’s work the study of tipping points? Is not Foucault studying how complex social systems evolve over time to become something new, where they suddenly shift from one self-organizing form to another as a function of some type of punctuated equilibrium, some type of major phase shift? Is that not what Foucault’s whole discourse is about, along with the impact these shifting systems have on individuals and their care of self?

Also, could we not call his early work (up to Archeology of Knowledge) a top-down approach to system modeling? Something similar to Luhmann’s view of systems? I mean, is not Foucault, at least early on, trying to understand how systems change without having to call upon some micro-level theory of agency? Something Luhmann and Parsons and others tried to do? Is Foucault not also trying to understand the system within the confines of the system itself?

Then, beginning with Discipline and Punish and his interviews in Power and Knowledge, is not Foucault suddenly grounding his complex systems view in social practice? Suddenly shifting to a bottom-up perspective? Is that not what his methodological shift from archaeology to genealogy is all about? Top-down to bottom-up? A macro to a micro level shift in orientation?

Think about it? How would Foucault sound if he talked about dispositifs and apparatus as complex systems? What if he talked about apparatus which obey their own internal logic as emergent self-organizing systems? What if Foucault talked about his post-structuralism as a way of talking about history as changing dynamic systems that do more than just follow the dialectic? What if he talked about complex social systems that evolve over time along multiple trajectories? Suddenly his idea of systems containing their own resistance (his Nietzschian theory of power) makes more sense: we are talking about the multiplicity of systems, differentiation and feedback loops. And, suddenly his ideas would not seem so unique—at least by today’s knowledge of complexity science. Suddenly his ideas sound less structural and more systems-oriented.

Because this is a blog, I will not blag on too much. So, just consider one of Foucault’s key concepts, the dispositif. For Foucault, this concept forms the field of relations in which his work, up to the end, is situated within.

Foucault states: "What I’m trying to pick out with this term is, firstly, a thoroughly heterogeneous ensemble consisting of discourses, institutions, architectural forms, regulatory decisions, laws, administrative measures, scientific statements, philosophical propositions, moral and philanthropic propositions--in short, the said as much as the unsaid. Such are the
elements of the apparatus [dispositif]. The apparatus [the grid of intelligibility] itself is the system of relations that can be established between these elements. Secondly, what I am trying to identify in this apparatus is precisely the nature of the connections that can exist between these heterogeneous elements (Language, Counter-Memory, Practice, 1980, p. 194)."

As this quote shows, Foucault's work is always about mapping the grid of intelligibility (the dispositif) for some complex system in historical time-—be the system medicine, mental health, the social sciences, criminal justice, psychoanalysis, religion, or government. For Foucault, the dispositif is a system’s self-organizing order of things, its field of organizing practices. But this dispositif is not a totalizing system of relations as in the dialectic. Nor is it something the historian simply uncovers. It is both the interpretive framework that the historian imposes upon the discourses of the past (which is why Foucault often refers to his works as fictions, 1991, p. 33) and the relations that exist between the various discursive and nondiscursive heterogeneous elements making up the field of organizing practices—I mean, does that not sound like 2nd order cybernetics or sociocybernetics? The dispositif is a system of strategies that exist as practice, both on the part of the historian and on the part of the period in question. The dispositif isn’t found within some external structure or within the heads of particular controlling agents. It is within the practice of practice itself. It is fragmented, disjointed and broken, and yet inter-related, unified and organized. It is not a Parsionian system that exists as homeostasis, which then requires us to explain how change happens. It is a changing system where we question how order itself is possible.

Again, this is just a thought. But, it does open up the possibilities for some incredible connections between the last twenty years of sociological inquiry and the new science of complexity. To see a more thorough argument of my point of how Foucault can be used to build a theory of social complexity, see our new book, Sociology and Complexity Science.