The Defiance of Global Commitment: A Complex Social Psychology

-->My new book, The Defiance of Global Commitment: A Complex Social Psychology is out!

Focused on recent events at the global level -- from the Brexit vote and the election of Trump to the upsurge of European nationalism and the devolution of the Arab Spring to Chinese expansionism and the riotous instabilities of the world capitalist system -- in my new book (which is part of the Routledge complexity in social science series) I seek to do the following three things:


First, I seek to outline a social psychology of how and why people are defying their global commitments to one another.  More specifically, I seek to:

  • Make sense of the growing rebellion we see, the world-over, against the hard-won advances in global civil society -- particularly in terms of the rights of women, minorities, the poor, refugees, and the LGBTQI communities, as well as the ecological rights of all life on planet earth.
  • Explore, in turn, the simultaneous nostalgic desire that people, increasingly, have to turn away from each "other" and toward their own, all in a desperate effort to reclaim the things they believe globalization (in the form of "others") has taken away from them -- be this view of things right or wrong.
  • Go deep into the human psyche -- by drawing on the work of Freud and recent advances in affective neuroscience and cognitive and social psychology -- to examine how this widespread defiance and nostalgic withdrawal is being driven by a social psychology of resentment, fear, hatred, irrational sentiments, xenophobia, cognitive distortions, kin-selection, and a lust for power and death.
  • And, finally, how this social psychology -- a culture of cruelty, if you will -- is quickly becoming en vogue today as it is fed by an endless stream of social media, identity politics, populist rhetoric, and the strong-arms of the world.


Not stopping there, however, I also seek to explore how this negative psychology is being challenged and fought against by the therapeutic forces of global civil society and the healthy social psychologies of resistance -- from the United Nations to the #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements.
As complexity science teaches us, in any complex system (such as our global society) there is always the adjacent possible – that is, the chance that the system is traveling in multiple and different directions, and all at the same time!
And, in fact, that is what is happening today.  Our globalized world is a very complex place; with different groups the world-over (i.e., communities, countries, companies, etc) carving out all sorts of different but healthy and therapeutic social psychological paths.
It is also for this reason that I develop, in the third part of my book, a basic model of global power relations and resistance, based on the work of Freud, Foucault and Sylvia Walby.


Finally, based on my model of global power relations, I seek to offer some useful ways to address the problem.  My focus is on two key areas: a social psychology of public policy and a psychology of love and care of others.


We don’t discuss it much, but the social psychology and mental health of a community is just as important as its economic and political well-being.  And, just like the psychology of an individual, the mental health (and healthy awareness) of a community can become dysfunctional, particularly in the face of widespread change – as we see with globalization today – and in the face of the escalating conflicts, fears, resentments and aggressions that often surround it, as I just mentioned.

Equally Important, when the mental health of a community becomes problematic, people fall prey to feel-good decisions and unhealthy choices – as well as the political strong-arms of the world – which seem, on the face of it, self-preserving, but are often, in the long-run, not good.  We see this, for example, in the growing embraces of ethnic nationalism, global capitalism, the fight against ecological preservation, and the negative reactions against the civil rights of women, ethnic minorities, refugees, and the LGBT communities.

The challenge, then, is to counteract this pathology by improving the mental health (and healthy outlook) of communities – hence the role of global civil society and public policy.  And, it is important, to point out, we already have good models for doing this work.  They come from the fields of community and public health, which have always been in the business of developing (and evaluating) policies that seek to improve the mental and physical well-being of communities.  And, given such transformative goals, these fields have always had to deal with politics, power, and conflicts, as well as the emotional irrationalities and cognitive biases and social psychologies of people.  So, it has been and can be (and also very much needs to be) done.


Finally, I argue for a renewed psychology of love and care.  Freud’s big point in Civilization and Its Discontents – upon which my current books is based -- is that our best chance at even the smallest degree of happiness in life comes from the advances of civil society; but all such advances – particularly in terms of social justice – require people to make sacrifices to get along; and people don’t like doing that, as they think they are somehow giving up more than they are getting (which they often are), and so they rebel against their global social commitments; which, ironically enough, threatens the very chance most people have at happiness.  In other words, the success of global civil society, it seems, is built on a social psychological conundrum: a sort of psychic catch-22 if you will.

As such, for Freud (and for me), the best counterpoint to this negative state of affairs is the absurdity of the commandment to love others as ourselves, including our enemies.  Being so heavily influenced by Foucault, I am not sure, however, that I would say my usage of the term “love” is a totalizing discourse or logic.  Instead, I think it points to the positive role that socialization, in all of its various cultural and political forms, has on the psychology of people, mainly through the inscription of morals and mores and values and beliefs.  And I think Freud’s point was similar: the psychological absurdity of loving others, including our enemies, is his therapeutic challenge to the catch-22 of our human existence.  In other words, the only real counter-point to the defiance of our social commitments, at least at the psychological level, is to socialize people to better manage themselves and to see the value in it. 

For Foucault, the word “love” is translated into “care” and, in turn, leads him to a meditation on how communities – historically speaking – have variously thought it best to care for ourselves and others; as in the great Delphic precept, “to take care of yourself; or to be concerned, to take care of yourself.”

And, as Foucault demonstrates throughout his writings, through such meditations society is constantly up against such key sociological questions such as: How does love or care translate into justice?  And, what is being just?  And, what is a just community or society?  For example, in the policy realm, these meditations lead to such questions as: What is a just social policy?  Or, what constitutes equity or parity on the part of a government or some piece of legislation?  And, should governments and policy makers even be in the business of being just?  Which, in turn, leads to the examination of such core sociological themes as domination and exploitation and inequality and so forth.

Anyway, that gives a sense of it. 


Our "Power Grid as a Complex System" Chapter in the Reliaiblity First Newsletter!

Our new chapter in the HANDBOOK OF RESEARCH METHODS IN COMPLEXITY SCIENCE Theory and Applications made it into the RelabilityFirst newsletter.

For those who are new to grid management in the States, here is how ReliabilityFirst defines its mission on its website:
The electric grid is the backbone of our economy, critical for our national security, and necessary to support the public welfare. A reliable and secure electric grid is fundamental to our most basic daily routines and needs.
Our mission is to ensure that the electric grid is reliable and secure -- not only for today but also for tomorrow. To achieve this mission, our team identifies and prioritizes risks facing our electric grid; determines mitigation strategies to address these risks; and develops and deploys communication and outreach strategies to drive awareness and further ensure risk resolution.

Carl, the lead author on our paper, was interviewed for the Newsletter.  Here is a JPG of the interview:



I am happy to announce that the HANDBOOK OF RESEARCH METHODS IN COMPLEXITY SCIENCE Theory and Applications is finally out for reading!  Thanks to the Editors -- Eve Mitleton-Kelly, Alexandros Paraskevas, and Christopher Day -- for the opportunity to be part of the project!

For those interested, you can explore the book (similar to Google Books)! CLICK HERE. As stated on the book's website:
This comprehensive Handbook is aimed at both academic researchers and practitioners in the field of complexity science. The book’s 26 chapters, specially written by leading experts, provide in-depth coverage of research methods based on the sciences of complexity. The research methods presented are illustratively applied to practical cases and are readily accessible to researchers and decision makers alike.

Yes, Infrastructures are Socially Complex!

We have a chapter in the book, which I am rather proud of, as it really pushes the utility of complex systems thinking and case-based complexity for making sense of the role social factors play in grid reliability. As we state in the first paragraph of our chapter:
We wrote this chapter to address a major limitation in the current literature: the continued and significant failure to address the profound but oft-hidden role that complexity and, more specifically ‘social complexity’ play in the reliability and resiliency of various infrastructures. In doing so, we follow a ‘small but growing trend’ in several interconnected literature, ranging from systems engineering and engineering infrastructures to globalization studies and urban design to green architecture and social policy to ecology and sustainability, which seek to understand infrastructures from a complex social systems perspective (e.g., Braha et al., 2006; Byrne 2013; Byrne and Callaghan 2015; Capra and Luisi 2015; Gerrits 2012; Gerrits & Marks 2015; Haynes 2015; Pagani & Aiello, 2013, 2015; Teisman, Buuren & Gerrits 2009).


The Ontology of Big Data: A Complex Realist Perspective

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Many thanks to everyone at the ODYCCEUS Project for the opportunity to present my ideas in Venice, January 29-30, 2018 -- in particular, Eckehard Olbrich, Massimo Warglien, and Petter Törnberg.  It was a great symposium!


2018 Map of the Complexity Sciences

Just released the new 2018 version of the map of the complexity sciences.  

Lots of updates, with new areas of study and new scholars.  The big advances in the field seem to be about integration and application, with such new areas as mixed-methods, interdisciplinary research, policy and applied complexity. 

Also, in response to numerous requests, I have also updated the HOW TO READ MAP section.


Dynamic Pattern Synthesis for Modeling Complex Systems. An Interview with Phil Haynes

The following interview was conducted with Phil Haynes

He is Professor of Public Policy and researches and teaches public policy and management, as applied to a variety of contemporary circumstances. His research focuses on the application of complex systems theory, often using applied statistical methods. His research has been funded by the ESRC and the government and voluntary sector. He has published in a wider variety of journals including Social Policy and Administration and Public Management Review.  He is author of several books including Managing Complexity in the Public Services (2015) now in its second edition.

His most recent book, which is part of our complexity in social sciences series at Routledge, is aptly titled, SOCIAL SYNTHESIS: Finding Dynamic Patterns in Complex Social Systems.


How is it possible to understand society and the problems it faces? What sense can be made of the behaviour of markets and government interventions? How can citizens understand the course that their lives take and the opportunities available to them?  There has been much debate surrounding what methodology and methods are appropriate for social science research. In a larger sense, there have been differences in quantitative and qualitative approaches and some attempts to combine them. In addition, there have also been questions of the influence of competing values on all social activities versus the need to find an objective understanding. Thus, this aptly named volume strives to develop new methods through the practice of ‘social synthesis’, describing a methodology that perceives societies and economies as manifestations of highly dynamic, interactive and emergent complex systems. Furthermore, helping us to understand that an analysis of parts alone does not always lead to an informed understanding, Haynes presents to the contemporary researcher an original tool called Dynamic Pattern Synthesis (DPS) – a rigorous method that informs us about how specific complex social and economic systems adapt over time.  A timely and significant monograph, Social Synthesis will appeal to advanced undergraduate and postgraduate students, research professionals and academic researchers informed by sociology, economics, politics, public policy, social policy and social psychology.


Thanks, Professor Haynes, for doing this interview…

1. To begin, can you tell us a bit about your academic background? More specifically, how did you end up in policy evaluation and applied social science?

HAYNES: My first degree was in combined social sciences and social work. Over four years it provided a great interdisciplinary foundation. The last two years increasingly focused on social work practice.

It was a fantastic four years. When I graduated, I got a job as a generic court probation officer and then later specialised in developing new services for substance misuse. At that point, I started to get involved in research and training. 

All the new substance treatment programmes had to have evaluation built into them. It was immediately apparent that evaluation was complex and did not easily provide straightforward answers. For example, for the most dependent substance misusers, it was very difficult to estimate which service users would do best with different treatment types. I really enjoyed the research challenge and enrolled for an MSc in advanced social research methods at the UK Open University.

2. What got you involved in the development of methods?

HAYNES: After completing my MSc, I started a PhD examining how to use mixed methods to plan social services. My PhD soon started to show up the severe limitations of using traditional statistical methods for modelling historical patterns in order to plan future services. This took me into complexity theory. I moved permanently into an academic post. This was in the 1990s.

A number of seminal pieces about the application of complexity theory to the social sciences were published at that time in the US, and just beginning to influence Europe.  I was fortunate to have David Byrne as my PhD examiner and he was publishing his important book in the UK, Complexity theory and the social sciences. The late Paul Cilliers monograph, Complexity and postmodernism came out at a similar time.  

After that, David’s approach encouraged me to try methods like cluster analysis and then QCA. This resulted in me succeeding in getting ESRC funding to apply these methods to comparing the social networks of older people alongside different government expenditure patterns. It was a comparative study across several countries. Cluster analysis and QCA allowed the study to demonstrate that there were different patterns within the data and not one aggregate pattern. For example, Scandinavian, Northern Europe, and Southern Europe all demonstrated their own separate patterns, but also with dynamic and evolving changes over time.

In more recent years, I got frustrated with the competing strengths and weaknesses of cluster analysis and QCA and trying to decide which was the best method to use in a given research situation. It then occurred to me, the answer was staring me in the face, to bring them together into a mixed method. Then you could get the best characteristics of each method counter balancing the weakness in the other. That is how Dynamic Pattern Synthesis (DPS) was born.

3. Can you provide us an overview of what you mean by social synthesis? For example, why is social synthesis so important for social science?

HAYNES: Social synthesis is the art of examining social issues and social practices through a more holistic lens rather than a narrow hypothesis. It is founded on the idea from complexity theory that cases and social phenomena are often dynamic and highly interactive with each other. It is closely related to systems theory in this respect. Therefore, experimental and quasi-experimental approaches are extremely difficult to design with regard to knowing what to include and what is left out. Of course, experimental methods can work with replication and incremental adjustments, but that is resource and time intensive and not necessarily the best starting research design. This made me favour initial explorative approaches to large datasets, like using cluster analysis.

There are still limitations. Social synthesis cannot be a ‘theory of everything’, it has to have modelling boundaries, but it starts with the premise that is best to look more broadly rather than to focus its measurements too quickly and too soon into a reduced area of coverage.

4. What is your method Dynamic Pattern Synthesis (DPS) about, relative to this issue of synthesis?  For example, how do you see it as an advance on case-comparative method?

HAYNES: Dynamic Pattern Synthesis starts with an explorative synthesis rather than an explanatory hypothesis (although the latter can be introduced later in the method via QCA, if appropriate). It keeps the focus on being able to identify and compare each case rather than getting aggregate measures that are supposed to represent large groups of cases. It is very much a case based method, but one that tries to maximise the variable evidence for why a case is located where it is.

5. Is there any link to critical realism?

HAYNES: I think the contextual aspect of critical realism is highly relevant. When using critical realism, generative mechanisms and causality are situated in a changing social context. This frames and restricts any attempts at generalisation. It is a realistic and partial perspective on causality.

6. The case studies in your book are excellent.  I found them very useful because of their depth and variety, which helped me to see how your method works in different instances.  How did you happen to choose those case studies?

HAYNES: Because of the pressures of time and resources, my approach to the case studies was pragmatic and based on my previous research with secondary data. I had been involved in some research looking at the relationship of economics with public policy, post the 2008 financial crisis, so the Euro case study emerged from that stream of work. I also have a history of using secondary data to understand the changing demography and care needs of older people.  Similarly, I have focused previously on issues of territorial justice and the differences between local governments.

Probably the most innovative and speculative case study for me was trying to see if DPS made any sense with a small sub sample of micro data about older people. I think it is interesting how the resulting issues are very similar to challenges in qualitative research. It is hard to find meaningful consistent patterns over time at the most micro level. Social patterns seem easier to identify and work with at scale, at the meso and macro level, and that fits with the application to policy studies and evaluating policy at governmental levels.

7. What are the one or two most important things you want readers to come away with reading your book?

HAYNES: I would really like other researchers to try out DPS and to see how it works with different data sets in different contexts. I would also like to see this kind of method taken up in heterodox economics/political economics to reach a better understanding about macroeconomic theory and future interventions in the post financial crisis world. I think there is currently a normative imperative to be adventurous with macroeconomic research, to look for new public policy interventions in the economy.

8. What is the next step in your development of DPS?

HAYNES: I really want to communicate the basics of how the method works and to share the mechanics of this, and to encourage more case studies and more use, and to get other academics to ‘add-on’ to the mix of methods used in DPS. The methodological purpose is clear, to identify case patterns (that are likely to be time and space limited) and what the socio-economic meaning of these patterns is. DPS is not the only way to identify and name these patterns, there will be future evolutions of DPS as a method and better alternatives -  I am sure.  I would also really like to see if I could find and persuade collaborators to attempt to develop R packages in DPS. I do not have the skills and time to do many of these things alone, so I need to network and collaborate.



COMPLEX-IT A new App for Policy Evaluation at the Nexus


Public Health is a Complex Systems Problem. When will we finally embrace this fact?

My point is simple enough.  Consider the difference in the following two research questions:
1. How do we help people addicted to opioids overcome their problem?
2. Versus, how do we fix the health systems in which people live so they are less likely to become addicted to opioids?
Or how about this research question?
1. How do we help poor people deal with their health vulnerabilities?
2. Versus, how do we fix the communities and systems in which people live so that poverty is not a vulnerability to their health?
In neither case is the difference between these research questions one of psychology versus sociology.  Instead, it is a difference between a reductionist perspective and a complex systems view. The difference is also a matter of method: conventional variable-focused statistics versus computational methods focused on systems and cases and intersectionality.  Public policy and community health and clinical care research needs to change -- as do the views of people in general.  The world is too complex to keep thinking the way most continue to do.

As a primer, read the following book we wrote in 2015.

See also Battle-Fisher's excellent book:

See also the work being done at CECAN on complex nexus issues, which takes the issue of complexity to another level, at which point one is confronted with how the complexities of one public policy issue (and the changes made to address it) intersect and impact other policy issues and vice versa.

And, for an equally exhaustive and wider read on this view as concerns health and healthcare, go to the New England Complex Systems Institute and read through the excellent work by Bar-Yam and colleagues.    


Wonderful 2 minute Video on Our Globally Interconnected Web of Life

Saw this on twitter and was so impressed with it.  Just a wonderful example of our ecological interdependence and Capra's constant call for us to acknowledge our complex global web of life.


Scientific Journals, for the love of all that is good ... please grasp that editorial style is not science!

How many times has this happened?  You spend a tremendous amount of time on a study -- designing it, collecting data, conducting your results, writing up your paper, re-examining your results, making sure you've got everything right, getting all of your collaborators to agree the study is finally ready to go -- only to get to the "pick a journal" stage and come to a screeching halt!

And why?  Is it because you cannot find the right journal?  NO!  Is it because your ideas are not sufficiently cutting-edge?  NO!  Is it because your study is no good?  NO!  It's because your study is formatted incorrectly!  You chose the wrong font; your abstract is ten words too long; you need to use some arcane heading series that went extinct a thousand years ago; or you used APA when you should have used some bizarre hybrid referencing system that only the journal you want to publish in uses.   THAT IS WHY.  

So, you do what is asked, you convert everything to the exact style required -- none of which has anything to do with intellectual content whatsoever -- and then you submit the article; only to get an email back a few days later saying, "SORRY WE COULD NOT MOVE YOUR ARTICLE TO THE REVIEW STAGE BECAUSE YOU USED A SOFT RETURN AT THE END OF YOUR PARAGRAPHS."


Please Journal Editors and Publishers, stop the ridiculousness and do what your more enlightened colleagues do.  Here for example is the GUIDE FOR AUTHORS of a well-known journal with a high impact rating:
Your Paper Your Way
We now differentiate between the requirements for new and revised submissions. You may choose to submit your manuscript as a single Word or PDF file to be used in the refereeing process. Only when your paper is at the revision stage, will you be requested to put your paper in to a 'correct format' for acceptance and provide the items required for the publication of your article.

Does that not make sense?

Now, do not get me wrong.  I am actively involved in the field of visual complexity and take the issue of writing and presenting my work very seriously -- in fact, I probably spend too much time on it. Such concerns are different, however, from demanding that each and every time we submit an article we have to entirely reformat and sometime significantly rewrite it to meet the idiosyncratic needs of editorial style!  Please, science is hard enough without such nonsense.

Let people submit their studies, keep the formatting to the basics, and stick to the intellectual argument and the science.  And, if the paper is worth publishing, then run us through the hoops of meeting your arcane table formatting requirements.  But, until then....

On a humorous note, I leave you with this brilliant cartoon in The New Yorker by Tom Cheney (Published February 8th, 2016)