Monday, May 4, 2009

Social Complexity Theory

Here is something that may be fruitful. Brian Castellani talks about the overarching goals of Foucault's work. I am totally on-board with Castellani's thinking.

Castellani has a nice style of summarizing Foucault for dummies like me:

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?

And this interesting assessment:

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.


In one sense, my whole objective is to start by looking for "something new" - whether a historical new, a narrative new, or a textual new - and talk about how it got to its current state from a different state. or talk about how it would go from its current state to a different one later.

That's not so hard, is it?

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