Self-organisation or Selfcreation? From Social Physics to Realist Dynamics
The currently fashionable theory of self-organisation has its origins in statistical physics. Many believe that the underlying physics model, which is based on inanimate systems, can be employed to explain and predict the emergence of social structures, even of history itself. Some are even convinced that it will be possible to construct a social physics to displace the social sciences. The purpose of this article is to test those claims by reviewing some of the physical studies that have been made of human society, and its conclusion is that those claims cannot be substantiated. The underlying problem is that self-organisation is a one-dimensional theoretical concept that focuses exclusively upon supply-side interactions, from which order and complexity are said to ‘emerge’. But there is a better way. By systematic observation of living systems, both human and non-human, it has been possible to derive a general dynamic theory that embraces a more complex reality, involving a creative exchange between decision-making individuals and the changing needs of their society. I have called this interaction between the dynamic forces of demand and supply in living systems, the process of ‘strategic exchange’. And it is this strategic exchange that determines all other structural relationships in society, including the interaction between its constituent members. It is important in the social sciences, therefore, to move on from social physics to realist dynamics.
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