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Somewhat lengthy...apologies to those who read it.
Moses' pointer to look at David Krackhardt's work is a good idea. I will do
I have received several other good pointers (Garry Robins, thank you) and am
grateful to all.
I would also add that the ethnography thread is the same one as this. It is
the same discussion using different words. At least it is in my head.
Ethnography is an attempt to deal with complexity through narrative. Some
of the things about narrative (e.g. those things mentioned by Harrison White
in the last parts of I&C) seem to be compressing tools for complexity, but
how? Why? Why is this so hard to make ground on? Why do people keep
writing me and telling me this is complex without being able to say how or
why it is complex?
I have spent my fair share of time in the last 4 months reading the
autopoesis literature. I cannot find much there that impresses me as
fruitful. I find the arguments lead to things like wanting to
say...galaxies exist, therefore the universe is self-organizing...etc.
Organization in that sense seems to mean little.
My specific concerns are with perspective. Autopoesis, unless I
misunderstand it badly, wants there to be one concept of organization that
is discernable from one "scientific" perspective. We understand that
termites make mounds even if they don't because there is one unified sense
of organization and we know a chunk of it. That won't work--at least for
me. I have no problem with systems that think--ANT started there. But
systems that think because I can tell they are organized? That seems a bit
of a leap. What isn't a self-organizing system?
In my opinion, the answer to chaos is not simplicity nor is it organizations
as organisms which was a topic for political scientists shortly after
1900--see for example the work of Francis Coker. The answer to chaos seems
to be to embrace complexity, but how?
Energy is a metaphor as are phase states of matter. I mean them as nothing
else. Anyone who says that structural holes or dyads "exist" is a bit loose
on top in my view. They are not basic forces but concepts--concepts we
construct to make sense of things. They don't "exist" outside of a
conceptual world. I tend to think molecules do exist outside our heads. I
am not sure Martians would visit earth and say, ah yes, there's a dyad. Nor
even would a Dolphin notice that there are structural holes in her networks.
These things are made up from cultures we are in...not from facts.
I don't think we'll find a limited number of concepts in society unless they
relate to communications/information-as a form of organization, but how? I
am willing to go on with metaphor, but the question is, which ones may be
What is the difference between an organization and a network? -- Really,
now, at a core level.
Why do organizations seem to be getting looser and more diffused as
globalization and interconnection take place?
Why do people long for community if it is not dissolving?
What is "relationship"? I can't imagine this is to be expressed in
something other than information, but is that right? Isn't kinship
ultimately the information concerning genetic ties or ties of the heart? I
When do organizations "end?" When do networks...end? Isn't this something
about information and energy?
What is the difference between a social movement and an organization or a
network? Why? Under what circumstances does the phase shift occur between
one and the other? What genetic code describes how some human effort will
express itself in these various terms?
What changes when networks are not place-based?
For all the hours I have spent here, I have seen no general idea of
relationships, no theory of connectivity in "the social" no matter how
complex or simple. The only people doing that seem to be the few
sociologists who follow the Chicago School lines, like symbolic
interactionism, and the ANT folks. From what I have seen, I wouldn't put
autopoesis in the race. If I had to bet, communications sciences is a more
likely contender, but personally I cannot figure out what they are doing in
any systematic sense.
I do not offer criticism. I have no idea myself. I just can't smell the
track of the big questions and where they might head. We seem to be growing
our old disciplinary trees rather than planting new fields. Maybe that is
the only cultural way forward.
For what it's worth, from a biology/ecology perspective, I find the work of
people who work on Panarchy a bit more coherent, but that is much closer to
a theory of energy--more like food webs and similar.
>A word of caution. Organizations and societies are self-organizing
>systems. They are living, cognitive organisms. It would be a mistake
>to treat them as containers and compare their reaction to increased or
>decreased energy to that of plain substances. You have to agree that
>water and a bacteria react to changes in the temperatures completely
>differently. My point here is that organizations in terms of their
>internal structure and reactions to changes in the environment are
>closer to bacteria and cells than to water in a container. I think
>making analogies between physical and social world at the level of
>freezing-melting-evaporating would be an inappropriate simplification
>as natural sciences already offer more complex ideas for studying
>self-organizing systems. Works on dissipative structures and
>autopoesis provide clues for thinking in that direction.
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