What is Cultural Kinetics?
"Cultural kinetics" is an emergent paradigm that couples
a network approach to large-scale community or institutional organization
with large-network analysis, adding as well the longitudinal dimension
of time. By doing so it is able to study networked social processes, emergent
phenomena in large networked systems, and formation and transmission
of cultural patterns and social structure as learned behavior.
Studies of large-network phenomenon show important properties
of self organization, including those of reduncancy and resilience, in networks of low density that are central to understanding
the emergence and functioning of social institutions, processes of political
influence, social organization, and costs or constraints on transactions
in the market. Hence, cultural kinetics is closely connected to the theory
and study of complexity and self-organizing systems.
has many meanings. A physical
rather than mathematical basis of complexity
can be shown to result from processes of exchange internal to agents or atomisms of a
collective that are much more extensive in time than the interactions between them. The
rich spectrum of networked internal processes makes for complexity as well in the
networked processes of interaction. The primary axes of human kinetics are the horizontal
plane of multiple agent/environmental interactions and the vertical plane of
single agent/interior process interactions. The lag-time for results of internal
processes to reemerge into overt behavior far exceeds the time scale at which agents
affect one another or agent/environment reactions take effect. Billiard-ball interactions,
by contrast, are an example of simple systems in that internal and external
processes take place on approximately the same time scale.
The study of social networks, individuals as social agents, and
the role of cognition in shaping kinetic networks of behavior would seem to be
useful approaches to cultural kinetics.
Network studies of large-scale community and institutional
phenomena were regarded as "unnecessary" in the social networks approach
of the 1960s that was introduced into anthropology by Barnes and Mitchell.
They made no effort to dislodge functionalism - which they perceived as
well suited to "traditional" societies. Rather, they perceived "network
analysis" more narrowly as a set of methodological tools that could be
applied to the description of social structure in urban or nontraditional
social settings where the functionalist concepts of stable roles and norms
were more difficult to articulate. They did not attempt to theorize or
implement a more dynamic approach to culture and social structure generally,
one which would include the formation of institutions and the processes
of cultural emergence and transmission via interpersonal interactions.
Cultural kinetics also follows out the new conception
of history: not as that of extraordinary circumstances, larger-than-life
individuals and ruling institutions, and key "historical moments" but --
as well -- as patterns emergent out of the lives of ordinary persons and
produced in the course of everyday life. It also includes threshold phenomena
in the networked histories of people's lives that produce phase transitions
or structural transformations that may happen very rapidly.
Why Kinetics? Why Culture?
Every complex system requires movement to encounter sources
of fuel (energy, materials) within its environment. Culture is socially
transmitted learned behavior, affect and cognition -- behaviors that require
persistent motion and cognitions and emotions that are continually updated
with respect to the field of motion. For humans, these motions form
a field of interdependencies between the environment, interpersonal relationships,
bundles of behaviors-affects-cognitions, and access to resources and information through
groups. These interdependencies form structures ("shared" culture,
parts of which may be distributed differentially) which may change relatively
slowly, but may also change abruptly as they reach critical transition
thresholds. The study of complex systems demonstrates that it is
a mistake to regard "structures" as fixed, immobile or recurrent in exactly
repetitive form. Rather, structures tend to be "vibratory" within
oscillatory fields of motion.
Structure is concerned with the form of relations amongst
the parts of some whole. Taking individuals as the parts of human society,
A.R. Radcliffe-Brown, in his lectures at the University of Chicago in 1937,
developed the idea that social structure inheres in the actual network
of social relationships amongst individuals. Yet, in 1949, Claude Lévi-Strauss
complained of the "impossible complexity" of the network of actual relations
of kinship and marriage, and insisted on the priority of models of and
for social arrangements as a prerequisite for apprehending structure.
The field of social networks situates both these views,
once opposed, on common ground. Social science has passed the point where
it is impossible to study social structure through the actual network of
social relations. Actual social networks are highly complex, but by means
of models -- of positional equivalence, centralities, subgroups and boundary
conditions, connectivities and cohesion, and the like -- we may apprehend,
measure and test the significance of structural concepts in terms of how
they summarize patterns of social interaction.
Structuralism opposes the premise of methodological individualism,
typical of economics, that all behavior must be explained at the level
of individual behavior. Using network approaches,
we may test the structuralist credo that there are many social phenomena
that require us to identify emergent structural properties of a social
ensemble as exerting causal influences, constraints or feedback mechanisms
that shape behavior in ways that cannot be explained at the individual
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