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Originaly prepared for a symposium of the Union of In ternational Associations (Paris. March 1974)
on the Conceptual problems of language in international society. Published in Transnational Associations, 31, 1979, 5, pp. 193-194
[searchable PDF version]
In working with different types of social, entity or social phenomena, whether in- ternational organizations, world-wide problems or key concepts, it is often difficult to express relatively simple notions about the interrelationships between such entities. The interrelationship may be basically structural when such entities form complex networks of characteristic shapes, or else the interrelationship may be dynamic when the flows between the entities are important, when the network is growing, or when the network is evolving into some new shape with different structural characteristics.
Because clear and simple concepts are lacking, together with the appropriate terms, discussion of such social complexity can only be accomplished, if at all, by the use of extremely cumbersome and lengthy phrases which tend to create more confusion than they eliminate. A vocabulary is required which is adapted to complexity. In the absence of such a vocabulary, debate tends to avoid discussion of issues which emerge from such complexity and concentrates on issues which can be adequately expressed via the existing vocabulary. This creates the illusion that the issues which, can be discussed are the most important because of the visibility accorded them by the vocabulary at hand. \
There is therefore a real challenge to the social sciences to identify concepts associated with complexity and to locate adequate terms with which to label them. The development of such a vocabulary would provide a powerful means for objectifying and de-mystifying the complexity of the organizational, problem and conceptual networks by which we are surrounded and within which most of our activity is embedded.
A good point of departure is the "ne- work". In a number of domains, particularly outside the social sciences, network related terms are in frequent use. The structural and dynamic concepts associated with these terms may be converted for use in connection with social complexity, in the following sections a first step has been made in this direction. In many cases the relative simplicity and lack of ambiguity of the concept would emerge much more clearly if diagrams, or in some cases sequences of diagrams, could be provided. (Contacts have already been made with a view to producing a film to give clarity to this new vocabulary as a support for textual definitions of the different concepts),
The special advantage of this particular strategy is that the point of departure, "network" can be considered as being composed of a great variety of social entities and links. It is the focus of concern on the conception and definition of these partial features of the social fabric which is a cause of much of the commu- nication difficulty with regard to social structures and processes. There may therefore be much advantage to be gained by focusing on a " fabric-oriented" concept like network which by-passes many relatively trivial difficulties (without imposing an unsatisfactory so- lution) and stabilizes discussion at a new and more fruitful level.
|Structural relationship to environment
|Operational relationship to environment
mismatch problem /concept
mismatch absorptive network
|Change over time/Flow characteristic
|Relationship to another part of network
floating centre network
network short circuit
open network (i.e. not dense)
coarse linked network
finely linked network closed network (impen.)
|Growth over time
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