Connecting the Dots without Forgetting the Circles

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evolution of supranational systems


The steep slope of the increase in human population over the past century has been accompanied by increased complexity of the various systems that serve the six billion human beings that growth has produced. Network analysis has been a response by social scientists to the necessity to develop better methods of analysis. Now other scientists are finding network models more and more useful for understanding their own fields — in the study of materials from quarks to the cosmos, in the study of biology from DNA to ecosystems, and in the study of humans from domestic networks to the internet. The randomness that was earlier assumed is being questioned at all levels of analysis. We need to step back and review our own culture's ontological conceptions of what is really out there and how it is organized. That can be done properly only in some kind of comparative perspective. Because of its holistic and comparative perspective, anthropology has a role to play. Its interdisciplinary leanings and connections – biological, linguistic, historical, social, cultural and humanistic — are valuable in these times of increasing specialization of scientific enterprises. Judgments, as to what we know and what we do, are based on experience, and experience is interpreted by each of us in terms of our own culture, what we have learned to believe is known. There is much that is yet unknown about connecting the dots and interpreting the circles. Circles — cohesive and structural clusters, domains, and fields — at one level of analysis become dots at higher levels in one of the three major hierarchies of systems and subsystems — in the hierarchy of physical and material systems, in the hierarchy of evolving biological systems, and in the hierarchy of our rapidly developing human social or cultural systems. If we open our minds to the possibilities that can be generated in the interactions among the dots and circles of these systems and subsystems, all of which are relatively open networks, we social scientists may make enormous contributions to understanding the whole

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Connections, v. 26, issue 2, p. 107-119