I interleave comments upon Joe's text -- > 11th FIS Discussion Session: > INTRODUCING SOCIAL AND CULTURAL COMPLEXITY > Joseph A. Tainter > Global Institute of Sustainability and School of >Human Evolution and >Social Change, > Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, USA > > Several years ago I began a fruitful collaboration with >Timothy Allen, an ecologist at the University of Wisconsin and a leading >thinker on hierarchy theory. Many stimulating discussions and several >worthwhile products emerged from our work together, as well as a few >surprises. One surprise was to find, after writing together for five >years, that we meant different things by the term complexity. I suspect >this kind of discovery is not unusual in interdisciplinary collaborations. > > How many kinds of complexity are there? Perhaps I should >phrase that as: How many concepts of complexity are there? There are, to >begin, social complexity and ecological complexity. SS: These look to me like different applications, not kinds.
> There are algorithmic complexity and computational complexity. A simple >foray into Wikipedia shows that computational complexity can be linear, >logarithmic, or exponential. Complexity classes can be P or NP. There are >complex systems, complex mechanisms, and complex behavior. Complexity can >be specified, irreducible, or unruly. To some ecologists, complexity is >equivalent to diversity, while to others complexity emerges through >hierarchy (Allen and Starr 1982; Allen and Hoekstra 1992; Ahl and Allen >1996). SS: See also, Salthe, 1985, Evolving Hierarcical Systems. >Complexity can be hierarchical or heterarchical. SS: Hierarchy is a model; heterarchy refers to the confused, imperfect hierarchy one constructs in actual applications. >Hierarchies can be simple and short, or complex and elaborate. Complexity >can occur within a system, or by embedding types of systems. Organization >in complex systems emerges through constraints, which can be asymmetrical >(Allen, Tainter, and Hoekstra 1999; Allen et al. 2001) or symmetrical. >Amidst all this conceptual fluorescence, the irony of complexity is that >it simplifies. Elaboration of structure and organization simplifies >behavior, making it possible for assemblages of entities to function as >systems. > > I will cut through the conceptual diversity by describing how >many anthropologists, including myself, came to think of complexity. Two >of historys truisms are that most societies of today are more complex >than those of our ancestors, and that at least since the end of the >Pleistocene many societies have shown a seemingly inexorable tendency to >increase in complexity. SS: Increasing levels in the kind of hierarchy Allen's group discusses (what I call the scalar hierarchy, formally a compositional hierarchy, as in [society [family [individual]]]) occurs by way of interpolation between existing levels. I have advanced the idea that this occurs in general in order to increase the overall rate of energy dissipation. >But of what does this complexity consist? > > One essential feature of the least complex societies is that >they show little differentiation in structure. There are few social roles >except those arising immediately from gender, age, and personal abilities. >Social and cultural complexity has meant, in part, the emergence of >differentiated roles and institutions. Hunter-gatherer societies may >contain no more than a few dozen distinct social personalities, while >modern European censuses recognize 10,000 to 20,000 unique occupations, >and industrial societies may contain overall more than 1,000,000 different >types of personalities (McGuire 1983: 115). > > Is this differentiation of structure all there is to social >complexity? To conclude so would be like concluding that ecological >complexity can be reduced to species diversity. Differentiation in >structure is a useful starting point for understanding cultural >complexity, but it is only the beginning. In western North America, >anthropologists in the early 20th century compiled lists of culture >elements among the remaining native peoples. It was not a very >sophisticated approach. A culture element could be anything from the >practice of a ritual to a kinship category, as if all such things were >commensurate elements. But Julian Steward pointed out the quantitative >contrast between the 3000 to 6000 culture elements documented among the >native people of western North America, and the 500,000 artifact types >that U.S. military forces landed at Casablanca in 1942 (1955: 81). The >figures give an indication of great difference in the complexity of these >respective societies. > > But such enormous differentiation tells only part of the >story. Complexity consists of organization as well as structural >differentiation. The challenge of the logistical train that headed for the >coast of northwest Africa was not just the great diversity in artifact >types, but also how they were packed aboard ship. In proper combat >loading, material should be stowed in reverse order from the sequence >needed upon landing. No doubt the U.S. military understood this in >principle, but failed to apply it in practice. Material cascaded into the >docks chaotically, and was loaded onto ships haphazardly. Soldiers broke >the windshields of stowed vehicles that they had to climb over to find >items. Explosives wound up in passageways, staterooms, and troop holds. >Needless to say, unloading under fire was chaotic. Guns arrived on the >beach without gunsights, without ammunition, without gunners. Important >radio equipment had been stored as ballast because it was heavy. Medical >supplies remained on the ships for 36 critical hours (Atkinson 2002: >34-35, 138-139). To find any specific thing it was necessary to unload >nearly everything. > > The problem with the 500,000 artifact types shipped to >Casablanca is that they did not, in fact, comprise a complex system. The >system lacked organization. Differentiation in structure without >corresponding organization makes a system complicated (Allen, Tainter, and >Hoekstra 1999, 2003), not complex. In a complex system, certain elements >constrain others, making the behavior of the constrained elements simple >and predictable. This is the essence of the evolution of social and >cultural complexitydifferentiation in structure combined with >organization that increases to constrain the structure (Tainter 1988). As >a human system becomes elaborate and organized, the behavior of its >individual elementsinstitutions, social roles, or just individual >peopleis channeled and simplified. Where once in human societies most >people could perform most tasks, today specialization is the norm. >Behavior is constrained and predictable. > > Of what does human organization consist? Historians, working >with the records of kings and governments, have tended to emphasize the >evolution of one facet of organization, the social and political >hierarchy. The essence of hierarchy is asymmetric relations, in which some >elements constrain the behavior of others (Allen and Starr 1982). >Certainly hierarchy is a salient kind of human organization, but it is not >the only kind. In a human system, symmetric relations also constrain. >Heterarchy is a kind of organization in which elements are unranked >relative to each other, or can be ranked in a number of ways (Crumley >1979). The states comprising the European Union are a heterarchy, for they >are in principle unranked, or ranked only temporarily. They constrain each >other through symmetric relations. The emphasis and guiding principle is >common policy. SS: This in itself makes for the hierarchy: [EU [individual state]]. >Hierarchy and heterarchy differ in the ways in which they integrate >elements, the speed at which they can operate and reach decisions, and >their effectiveness in various circumstances. The advantage of hierarchy >is that it can act quickly, uniformly, and over a large area. Heterarchy >is better suited to incorporating varieties of experience, but is slower >to act. The two organizing principles each perform best in different >circumstances (McIntosh, Tainter, and McIntosh 2000). > > A new area of investigation is how structure and organization >emerge from the interactions of individuals. SS: In a scale/compositional hierarchy it is important to see that a higher level context is essential for this to happen -- the system is triadic -> [context [new structure [individual interactions]]], and so is always an interpolation between levels. This is the basis of much of the work done in the area of agent-based modeling. The advent of telecommunications and electronic databases now allows social scientists to identify small social networks, and see the structures that emerge from them. Applied to the conflict in Iraq, researchers have employed regularities in the formation of networks to conclude that the number of contending factions has grown from 15 to 35 in 2003 to 100 to 130 today (Bohannon 2006). > > So in a human system, structure and organization emerge from >top-down constraints, from the horizontal constraints of peers, and from >the atomistic interactions of gregarious individuals. SS: Yes, the system is basically triadic (Salthe, 1985). >The intersection of these makes for the complicated, complex, confusing >life that we all know, and through which daily we try to navigate. > > It was once thought that complex societywhat we >conventionally call civilizationemerged solely through human >creativity, or from the availability of surplus energy provided by >agriculture and fossil fuels. We now understand that this was naive: >Complexity imposes costs, and humans are frequently averse to it. Human >systems often increase in complexity through the mundane process of >solving problems (Tainter 2000, 2006; Allen, Tainter and Hoekstra 2003). >As problems increase in scale and complexity (a phenomenon that is perhaps >inevitable), problem solving efforts must complexify correspondingly. >Often the solution to a problem is seen as differentiating structure >(perhaps through technology or formal institutions) or as increasing >organization (to further channel behavior). The best recent example is the >response of the US government to the attacks of September 11, 2001. The >governmental response was to increase structural differentiation, by >forming new bureaus and rearranging existing ones, and to increase >organization, in order to constrain behavior still further. The official >commission convened to investigate the incident issued a thick report that >recommended still more complexity in order to forestall possible future >attacks. > > In the world of complex adaptive systems, there is (to use a >colloquial expression) no free lunch. In any living system, complexity >costs. Once structure and organization increase, a way must be found to >pay for the increase. Complexity that emerges through problem solving >typically increases prior to the energy (or other currency) that is >required to fund it. Thus governments never have sufficient funds to pay >for all necessary programs, and firms, families, and individuals must >always make choices about which problems they will solve, and which they >cannot afford to address. Complexity that emerges through problem solving >is a benefit/cost function. It can enhance sustainability, but also >undermine it (Tainter 1988, 2000, 2006). SS: I conjecture, following MEP (maximum entropy production principle) that the programs would tend to be allocated so as to increase entropy production (as a biproduct of work, of course) > Are there other concepts of complexity that can fruitfully be >applied to human systems? Deliberately I refrain from undertaking to >answer this question. Instead I pose it for our forum, in the hope that >interesting and worthwhile discussions will emerge. > > > REFERENCES: > > Ahl, V. and T. F. H. Allen. 1996. Hierarchy Theory: A Vision, Vocabulary, >and Epistemology. Columbia University Press, New York. > > Allen, T. F. H. and T. W. Hoekstra. 1992. Toward a Unified Ecology. >Columbia University Press, New York. > > Allen, T. F. H. and T. B. Starr. 1982. Hierarchy: Perspectives for >Ecological Complexity. University of Chicago Press, Chicago. > > Allen, T. F. H., Joseph A. Tainter, and T. W. Hoekstra. 1999. >Supply-side sustainability. Systems Research and Behavioral Science >16:403-427. > > Allen, T. F. H., Joseph A. Tainter, and T. W. Hoekstra. 2003. >Supply-Side Sustainability. Columbia University Press, New York. > > Allen, T. F. H., Joseph A. Tainter, J. Chris Pires, and Thomas W. >Hoekstra. 2001. Dragnet ecology-Just the facts, maam: the privilege of >science in a postmodern world. BioScience 51:475-485. > > Atkinson, Rick. 2002. An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, >1942-1943. Holt, New York. > > Bohannon, John. 2006. Tracking peoples electronic footprints. Science >341:914-916. > > Crumley, Carole L. 1979. Three locational models: an epistemological >assessment of Anthropology and Archaeology. In Advances in Archaeological >Method and Theory, Volume 2, edited by Michael B. Schiffer. 141-173. >Academic Press, New York. > > McGuire, Randall H. 1983. Breaking down cultural complexity: inequality >and heterogeneity. In Advances in Archaeological Method and Theory, Volume >6, edited by Michael B. Schiffer, pp. 91-142. Academic Press, New York. > > McIntosh, Roderick J., Joseph A.Tainter, and Susan Keech McIntosh. 2000. >Climate, history, and human action. In The Way the Wind Blows: Climate, >History, and Human Action, edited by Roderick J. McIntosh, Joseph A. >Tainter, and Susan Keech McIntosh, pp. 1-42. Columbia University Press, >New York. Salte, S.N., Evolving Hierarchical Systems: Their Structure and Representation. Columbia University Press. Salthe, S.N., 1993. Development and Evolution: Complexity and Change in Biology. MIT Press. > > Steward, Julian H. 1955. Theory of Culture Change. University of Illinois >Press, Urbana. > > Tainter, Joseph A. 1988. The Collapse of Complex Societies. Cambridge >University Press, Cambridge. > > Tainter, Joseph A. 2000. Problem solving: complexity, history, >sustainability. Population and Environment 22: 3-41. > > Tainter, Joseph A. 2006. Social complexity and sustainability. Ecological >Complexity 3: 91-103. > > >-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- >------- _______________________________________________ >fis mailing list >firstname.lastname@example.org >http://webmail.unizar.es/mailman/listinfo/fis _______________________________________________ fis mailing list email@example.com http://webmail.unizar.es/mailman/listinfo/fis