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.

Cultural Kinetics and Complexity

Complexity 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.

Social Networks, Agents and Cognition

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.

Cultural Kinetics and Anthropology

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 and History

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.

Cultural Kinetics and Structural Analysis

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 level.

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