The Physics of Complex Systems


Dr. Douglas White
Professor of Anthropology
University of California at Irvine

Dr. Douglas White

Synopsis of background:

Dr. Douglas White is a Professor of Anthropology at the University of California at Irvine. Trained at the University of Minnesota and as a CIC Travelling Scholar at the Universities of Michigan and Columbia, Dr. White has done field research of Ojibwa Indians, societies in Veracruz and Tlaxcala Mexico, Ireland, and Austria. Dr. White has over 100 publications in peer-reviewed journals and numerous NSF and other grants. Research interests include social networks, mathematical anthropology, cross-cultural, longitudinal field-studies, and complex systems research in historical dynamics. On numerous editorial boards, Dr. White is a Fellow of the American Anthropological Association and the Society of Applied Anthropology, a Distinguished Senior Scientist recipient of the Alexander von Humboldt award, and the founder of the World Cultures and the Structure and Dynamics journals published by University of California eScholarship and sponsored by the Institute of Mathematical Behavioral Sciences. He is the general editor of Structure and Dynamics and the founder and sysop of the complexity sciences Media wiki, InterSciWiki

On Homeokinetics:

"In anthropology the homeokinetic approach had an impact in comparative work designed to develop and test new theories. Concepts of social processes employed in ethnographic studies were reformulated as linkages that operate at various nested spatial and temporal scalings. This involved abandonment of the classical idea of ethnography, written in an 'ethnographic present' as a self-contained unit of local space-time-social action-culture, a shift that is in keeping with contemporary ethnography. Social processes, then, come to be seen as occurring in a field of social action that is open at any number of levels, with boundary conditions shifting with real-time historical processes. In contemporary comparative studies, the counterpart to this multilevel conception of space-time-action embedding is that field study has a temporal dimension of changing relationships and interactions embedded in networks not only of relations within the social unit and its constituents but in outside linkages to larger historical levels and processes. Such comparative studies represent a radical departure from classical comparative research in anthropology in its several varieties. Previously, cross-cultural theories were tested by comparison of ethnographic units as if they were frozen in time, or static observations were used either to reconstruct shared history (Kroeber) or to treat shared history as if it could be a quasi-experimental control in making testing structure-functional hypotheses (Eggan, Radcliffe-Brown). The approach stimulated by homeokinetics takes a multilevel dynamic networks approach to comparisons. Some of the work now being done by D. White and colleagues at UC Irvine, Cologne and the Universities of Paris, for example, uses a dynamic representation of marriage, reproduction and kinship networks interacting with flows of property, office, occupation and education along this network scaffold (inheritance, succession, socialization) as well as through institutional network mechanisms of recruitment, identification, dependency, predation and exchange, including systems of marriage exchange. Long term fieldwork settings are used to study the various temporal and spatial scalings of these operations and how they are related in understanding social change, power, and economic processes."

Basing new theories on a series of hypotheses about causal effects of cohesion in social networks on more general concepts and measures developed with graph theorist Frank Harary and sociologist James Moody, and working with sociological collaborators, White developed a new line of sociological research building on results of the previous ethnographic studies. These studies have dealt with cohesive groups as a support for complex task performance, success in large-scale kinship networks in complex societies, educational systems (prediction of school attachment), integration and fragmentation in social groups, corporate and political party interlock and potential collusion, lines of transmission in science, collaboration, innovation, and market/nonmarket pricing in industry, the dynamics of trade and city growth/decline in relation to trade and warfare, growth/deline in empire and forms of cohesive resistence, longitudinal study of structure and dynamics in the world economy (both in the Medieval Renaissance and in the contemporary period of globalization), and metastable oscillatory dynamics generally. Two of these studies have won prizes from the American Sociological Association, one as a best paper in Mathematical sociology, and the other in Economic sociology.

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