The Atlas of Social Complexity


The Atlas of Social Complexity

9781789909517 Edward Elgar Publishing
Brian Castellani, Professor and Director, Research Methods Centre, Co-Director, Wolfson Research Institute for Health and Wellbeing, Durham University, UK; Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, Northeastern Ohio Medical University, US and Lasse Gerrits, Professor and Academic Director, Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies, Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Netherlands
Publication Date: 2024 ISBN: 978 1 78990 951 7 Extent: 508 pp
Embark on a riveting journey through the study of social complexity with The Atlas of Social Complexity. Over three decades of scientific exploration unfold, unravelling the enigmatic threads that compose the fabric of society. From the dance of bacteria, to human-machine interactions, to the ever-shifting dynamics of power in social networks, this Atlas maps the evolution of our understanding of social complexity.

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Embark on a riveting journey through the study of social complexity with The Atlas of Social Complexity. Over three decades of scientific exploration unfold, unravelling the enigmatic threads that compose the fabric of society. From the dance of bacteria, to human-machine interactions, to the ever-shifting dynamics of power in social networks, this Atlas maps the evolution of our understanding of social complexity.

Brian Castellani’s and Lasse Gerrits’ Atlas is not merely retrospective. It is a compass pointing to uncharted territories: new directions for research and intellectual debate. With wit and insight, they invite the reader to ponder unanswered questions, taking them on a quest for alternative ways to understand the intricate complexities of societies.

The Atlas of Social Complexity is a thrilling expedition into the heart of what makes us human: from cognition, emotion, consciousness, the dynamics of human psychology, to social networks, collective behaviour, politics and governance, technology and planning, and the practice of social interventions. The Atlas also visits cross-cutting themes such as intersectionality, configurational complexity, and research methods.

Organised around six transdisciplinary themes and twenty-four topics the Atlas is an invaluable resource for all social science and complexity science scholars and students interested in new ideas and new ways of working in social complexity. It paves the way for the next generation of research in the study of social complexity.

Critical Acclaim
‘Many have observed that in the social sciences, everything is connected to everything else but so far we have been singularly unsuccessful in attempting to explain the richness and diversity of this interconnected world. Glimpses of such explanations have come from the sciences of complexity but much of this reasoning has been contained within the traditional straitjacket of the physical sciences. What Castellani and Gerrits have done is to produce an Atlas of this world, through a series of maps that guide the reader to a great array of disciplines that can be informed by a multitude of ideas that they define as social complexity. This is a remarkable commentary on our progress in dealing with complex systems in all their guises and it is essential reading for everyone who seeks an understanding of our interconnected world.’
– Michael Batty, University College London, UK

‘This book is not just an invaluable Atlas to the extensive and fascinating literature on social complexity, but also an opinionated (in the best way) tour of the landscape, its heights and its depth and its quirks. The authors have read widely, thought carefully and explained clearly a broad sweep of research and practice on the idea of complexity and its application in the social, psychological and economic sciences. The book will be invaluable to academics, researchers, and policy analysts intrigued by how a social complexity approach might aid in the understanding of our complex world.’
– Nigel Gilbert, University of Surrey, UK

‘An inspiring read for believers and non-believers. Whether or not you agree that complexity is what it is all about, this book formulates a great set of challenges to spark renewal in the interdisciplinary social sciences. Covering a wide terrain from cognition to ecology and intersectionality, it charts a set of adventurous routes through recent research to show how a sociologically informed complexity science can meaningfully address the questions that matter.’
– Noortje Marres, University of Warwick, UK

‘This is a superb review of the development of social complexity in the social sciences and is a must read for anyone interested in cutting-edge social theory. Castellani and Gerrits convincingly show that this set of concepts is being transformative of social science thinking across multiple disciplines, even if it is developing too slowly.’
– Sylvia Walby, Royal Holloway, University of London, UK

‘Castellani and Gerrits have done a considerable service in putting this Atlas together. It does social science and social scientists justice in seeing off the generally naïve and poorly-informed efforts of many from the fields of mathematics and the physical sciences to apply their techniques in a social world which is both more dynamic and complex than the realms from which those techniques come. In an era of interwoven social and ecological crises, it puts human agency front and centre in engaging with social complexity to remind us that agency has causal power in shaping the future of complex systems.’
– David Byrne, Durham University, UK

''This book stands as a formidable achievement, a true tour de force wherein the authors delve into our complex social world. They unravel the intricacies from the molecules comprising our cells to those shaping our bodies and ultimately forming us as conscious individuals. These individuals, in turn, have pioneered, discovered, and advanced technologies such as electronics, thinking robots, nuclear power, the contraceptive pill, and antibiotics. Collectively, they shape a complex society that, with an accelerating pace of change, achieved remarkable feats like landing a man on the Moon, eradicating smallpox, and establishing the World Wide Web. And, yes, also a society that kills its brothers and sisters and destroys its own natural environment much faster than it can reason about it. A profound sense of urgency emerges to comprehensively grasp these intricacies of our human society, considering its multifaceted interactions. Much like the Greek Titan, this Atlas bears the weight of the world and its remarkable inhabitants, and – guided by the science of complexity – offers new qualitative and quantitative avenues to make sense of this amazing world we live in.''
– Peter Sloot, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands

‘In this thought-provoking collaboration, Castellani and Gerrits take us on an exciting journey beyond established boundaries to imagine what a new study of social complexity could look like. The Atlas challenges and inspires readers to make the intellectual and practical breakthroughs that are desperately needed in order to address the world’s most pressing problems. The breadth of the Atlas provides readers with an opportunity to explore new territories and does not shy away from concepts, such as power and inequality, that are often ignored in other complexity science books. My journey through the Atlas has left me feeling very hopeful about the future and motivated to explore even deeper into the unknown.’
– Sharon Zivkovic, Community Capacity Builders, Centre for Autistic Social Entrepreneurship, Australia
Acknowledgments vii
1 Theme 1: The Social Complexity Imagination 8
2 Origins of the Study of Social Complexity 23
3 Thirteen Situations 43
4 Cartography and Constructing the Atlas 63
5 Theme 2: Cognition, Emotion, and Consciousness 70
6 Autopoiesis and Cellular Cognition 77
7 Bacteria and the Brain 82
8 Immune System Cognition 88
9 Brain-based Cognition, Emotion and Consciousness 99
10 The Self 120
11 Human-machine 140
12 Theme 3: dynamics of human psychology 149
13 Human psychology as dynamical system 157
14 Psychopathology of Mental Disorders 173
15 Healing and the therapeutic process 192
16 Mindfulness, imagination, and creativity 205
17 Theme 4: living in global-ecological social systems 216
18 Complex social Psychology 232
19 Collective behaviour, social movements and mass psychology 243
20 Configurational Social Science 261
21 The local and the global: complexities of place 297
22 Socio-technological life 321
23 Governance, politics and technocracy 342
vi The atlas of social complexity
24 The challenges of applying complexity 358
25 Economics in an unstable world 372
26 Resilience and all that jazz 384
27 Theme 5: charting a new methods territory 396
28 Make love, not models 398
29 Revisiting complex causality 407
30 Mapping the new methodological terrain 425
31 Getting philosophically real 455
32 Theme 6: the unfinished space 464
Appendix 1: list of respondents 486
Appendix 2: speculative references 488
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