The Physics of Complex Systems

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

Synopsis of background:

Dr. Douglas White is a Professor of Anthropology at the University of California at Irvine. Trained at the University of Minnesota, Dr. White has done field research of Ojibwa Indians, and societies in Veracruz and other parts of Mexico. Dr. White has over 50 publications in peer-reviewed journals and numerous NSF grants. Research interests include social networks, mathematical anthropology, and cross-cultural historic research. On numerous editorial boards, Dr. White is a Fellow of the American Anthropological Association and the Society of Applied Anthropology, and the founder of the World Cutures journal.

On Homeokinetics:

"In anthropology the homeokinetic approach (also) 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 Nanterre, 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, training, socialization) as well as through institutional network mechanisms of recruitment, identification, dependency, predation and 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."

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