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Dancing Together: the Fluidification of the Modern Mind


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A pretty theoretical (and slightly eccentric) conference I gave at the Digital Methods Initiative 2016 Summer School in Amsterdam

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Dancing Together: the Fluidification of the Modern Mind

  1. 1. Dancing Together the Fluidification of the Modern Mind Tommaso Venturini Lecturer, Digital Humanities Dept. King's College London Chercheur affilié, médialab Sciences Po Paris
  2. 2. The way we teach dancing is not the way we dance
  3. 3. Historians cared about sequence and order. Sociologist didn’t. Why? (p. 4) This grew out of my idea that the social process was itself narratively organised. I was insistent that this narrative organisation to be real; that it, that it be inherent in the social process itself and nor merely in our talking about that process (p. 289) Abbott, A. (2001) Time Matters Chicago: University Press. 1. Talking about time
  4. 4. Anyone who ventures a projection, or imagines how a social dynamic—an epidemic, war, or migration—would unfold is running some model. But typically, it is an implicit model in which the assumptions are hidden, their internal consistency is untested, their logical consequences are unknown, and their relation to data is unknown... In explicit models, assumptions are laid out in detail, so we can study exactly what they entail. On these assumptions, this sort of thing happens. When you alter the assumptions that is what happens. Epstein, J. M. (2008). Why model? Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulations, 11(4), 2. Talking about models
  5. 5. structure-key-success-harry-potter- series a story VS the model of a story Vladimir Propp, 1928 Morphology of the Folktale
  6. 6. This conference will be about 1. The temporal dynamics of collective phenomena 2. The modeling of the such dynamics What are we talking about
  7. 7. Three types of social models Variation Circulation Interaction Examples Economic and ecologic equilibria Epidemics and routing Agent-based models Model Relations defined by a set of equations, computed recursively and in parallel until an equilibrium is reached. Flow of entities moving through a grid of connections (generally in the form of a complex network). Multitude of local exchanges among calculating agents (evolution cannot be analytically computed). Change Nothing new can be introduced or created and components cannot acquire new properties or alter associations. The only type of change admitted is the increase or decrease of quantities. Such systems admit existence of mobile components but both the shape of the network and the rules coordinating the movements are fixed from the beginning. The dynamism of these systems derives from a restricted and constant set of interaction rules. Transformation does not concerns the agents’ nature or the system’s architecture.
  8. 8. An example of agent based model Schelling, T. (1971). Dynamic Models of Segregation. Journal of Mathematical Sociology, 1 (May), 143–186
  9. 9. An example of agent based model Schelling, T. (1971). Dynamic Models of Segregation. Journal of Mathematical Sociology, 1 (May), 143–186 1. Opposition between individual strategies and collective results 2. Social existence framed as a relation between local/individual interactions & global/collective structures
  10. 10. The micro/macro framing Thomas Hobbes, 1651 The Leviathan
  11. 11. The ant framing Thomas Hobbes, 1651 The Leviathan Merian & Jonston, 1718 Folio Ants, Clony, Nest, Insects
  12. 12. Another example of agent based model Khuong et al. (2016). Stigmergic construction and topochemical
  13. 13. The colony is full of patterns and regularities and balanced proportions among different activities, with maintenance and repair and exploration and even mobilization for emergencies. But no individual ant knows whether there are too few or too many ants exploring for food or rebuilding after a thunderstorm or helping to carry in the carcass of a beetle. Each ant lives in its own little world, responding to the other ants in its immediate environment and responding to signals of which it does not know the origin. Why the system works as it does, and as effectively as it does, is a dynamic problem of social and genetic evolution. micromotives / macrobehaviours Schelling, T. C. (1978) Micromotives and Macrobehaviours Norton & Company
  14. 14. A layered collective life
  15. 15. A spatial framing of collective change Conceptually • Binary, micro and macro attractors vacuums all graduations of speed between them. • Rigid, entities cannot change tempo (they are either movable actors or fixed structures). • Topological, implicit assumption that local changes faster than global. Methodologically • Simpler dynamics where change is confined to local circuits and stability to global structures. • Artificial simulations where actors and structures can be separated by construction. Disadvantages of misusing the micro/macro framing
  16. 16. Fish tank complex
  17. 17. Revolutions or situations of structural change, e.g. • moments in which a new species transforms an ecological environment (Levins, 1968; Gordon, 2011); • an innovation ‘creatively destroy’ an industrial market (Schumpeter, 1976); • a compromise is proposed to defuse with a social crisis (Callon, Lascoumes & Barthe, 2009). Force our attention to shift • from the distinction between local interactions and global structures • to the interaction between things changing quickly and things changing slowly A temporal framing of collective change
  18. 18. All enquiry in the field of the social sciences involves the abstraction, generalisation and formalisation that are associated with many forms of tabular presentation... Since the table is essentially a graphic (and frequently a literate device), its fixed two dimensional character may well simplify the reality of oral communication beyond reasonable recognition, and hence decrease rather than increase understanding (p. 52, 53) One of the features of the graphic mode is the tendency to arrange terms in (linear) rows and (hierarchical) columns in such a way that each item is allocated a single position, where it stands in a definite, permanent, and unambiguous relationship to the others (p. 68) The result is often to freeze a contextual statement into a system of permanent oppositions, an outcome that may simplify reality for the observes but often at the expense of a real understanding of the actor’s frame of reference. And to shift frames of reference and regard such tables as models of the camshaft behind the jigsaw is to mistake metaphor for mechanism (p. 73) Jack Goody,(1977). The Domestication of the Savage Mind. Cambridge: University Press.
  19. 19. Tables Luc Boltanski (1973). L’espace positionnel : multiplicité des positions institutionnelles et habitus de classe. Revue Française de Sociologie, 14(1)
  20. 20. Leonhard Euler, 1736 Solutio problematis ad geometriam situs pertinentis from a circulation network to positions table
  21. 21. Paradoxically (for a mode of study so intently focused upon processuality), relational sociology has the greatest difficulty in analyzing, not the structural features of static networks, whether these be cultural, social structural, or social psychological, but rather, the dynamic processes that transform those matrices of transactions in some fashion. Even studies of “processes-in-relations” too often privilege spatiality (or topological location) over temporality and narrative unfolding (p. 305). Mustafa Emirbayer (1997). Manifesto for a Relational Sociology American Journal of Sociology, 103(2), 281–317 A topological approach to modeling change
  22. 22. And back to movement
  23. 23. Studying change in Wikipedia Viegas, F. B., Wattenberg, M., Kriss, J., & Van Ham, F. (2007). Talk before you type: Coordination in Wikipedia. In 40th Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences
  24. 24. Studying change in Wikipedia Borra E., Weltevrede E., Ciuccarelli P., Kaltenbrunner A. ... Venturini T. (2015) Societal Controversies in Wikipedia Articles. Proceedings of the 33rd Annual ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems
  25. 25. Studying change in French parliament
  26. 26. The origin of The Origin of Species
  27. 27. Social versioning
  28. 28. Dancing togheter
  29. 29. One Flat Thing, reproduced 1. Shifts the attention • away from the distinction between local interaction and global structures (the micro/macro divide)... • ... to the processes of slowing down and speeding up; . 2. Captures • Repetition and variation Gabriel Tarde, Les lois de l'imitation, 1890 Gilles Deleuze, Difference and repetition, 1968 • Sequence (before and after) and coordination (at the same time) 3. Visualizes change by • Augmentation instead of aggregation • View change by changing views
  30. 30.