Monday, July 30, 2012

Qualitative Complexity: new source for complexity theory


Ecology, cognitive processes and the re-emergence of structures in post-humanist social theory
John Smith and Chris Jenks
Offering a critique of the humanist paradigm in contemporary social theory, Qualitative Complexity is the first comprehensive sociological analysis of complexity theory. Drawing from sources in sociology, philosophy, complexity theory, ‘fuzzy logic’, systems theory, cognitive science and evolutionary biology, John Smith and Chris Jenks present a new series of interdisciplinary perspectives on the sociology of complex, self-organising structures.
John Smith has taught at Goldsmiths College, University of London; Lancaster University; and Greenwich University. He is a sociologist and a painter trained at the Royal College of Art. He is interested in sociological theory, philosophy and visual culture, and has published in all of these areas.
Chris Jenks is Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Professor of Sociology at Brunel University. He has published extensively in the areas of sociological theory, childhood, cultural theory and visual and urban culture.
The two authors met at Goldsmiths College and have subsequently published together in Cultural Reproduction (edited by Jenks; Routledge 1993);Visual Culture (edited by Jenks; Routledge 1995); Images of Community: Durkheim, Social Systems and the Sociology of Art (jointly authored by Smith and Jenks; Ashgate 2000); and an article on Complexity Theory in Theory, Culture and Society (October 2005).

[quote] Autopoiesis in its original form stressed that the living organism produced and organised the relationships between its components. Crucially, it also organised its relationship to its environment. Despite ‘structural coupling’ or evolved adaptation, ‘the organism decides what counts as environment’ and so also maintains its ‘operational closure’7. It is, of course, central to the application of complexity theory to sociology (Luhmann 1984, 1995), but it should be noted that Varela objected to the application of autopoiesis to social systems, even the operationally closed models developed by Luhmann. The versions explored here are much more open. Indeed, it is a characteristic of complex systems that boundaries are extremely difficult to draw. For example, in sociology how do we draw the boundary between individual and member? We shall return at length to Maturana Varela and Luhmann below. For the moment, it is important to stress that autopoiesis is completely unlike the ideas of self-autonomy assumed by post-modern or post-structural notions of freedom, negation and deconstruction.

Though self-organisation obviously signifies autonomy, a self-organising system … must work to construct and reconstruct its autonomy and this requires energy …[T]he system must draw energy from the outside; to be autonomous…it must be [also] dependent.
(Morin 2002:45, following von Foerster 1984)
The inexorable fate of any system that does not draw energy from its environment is entropic equilibrium: it will cease to be dynamic or, in the case of the living, it will die.[unquote]

This reflects exactly my critique that Luhmann's theory lacks a thermodynamic theory that explains energy and entropy. And it has to do, apparently, with the openness of systems allowing systems to obtain energy from the environment.

There is another structural implication:
… when a variable affecting a dissipative structure changes enough, the structure either reorganises itself or collapses. This crisis point is called a ‘bifurcation’. When collapse is avoided, the reorganisation process takes pieces of the earlier structure and changes their functions and relative importance so as to allow the system to continue, although now in a new form. An example is the stress caused by rising populations, which ultimately compels a society to become more hierarchical or collapse into fragments.
(Grimes 2000:33)

1 comment:

  1. [I clicked on "preview" and blogspot instead erased my comment... typing it again:] Smith and Jenks do bring some insights but only give a very superficial account of Morin's work. See a more elaborate discussion in my book "Art and Sustainability: connecting patterns for a culture of complexity" (Bielefeld: transcript Verlag, 2011). See chaps 2 to 4 (esp. chap. 3)...