Volume 4, Number 2, 2009

prise-deparole-logo-40This journal is published in French only.

Jacques Lévy

Beginning with the Ends. Complexity as Founder of the Social (Commencer par les fins. La complexité fondatrice du social) (p. 13–34)


A misunderstanding about the notion of system has undermined discussions on complexity in social sciences. Social systems are fundamentally actors systems, whereby the arrangement of intentionalities can be used as a leading thread for the understanding of these systems’ rationales. The situation is obviously different in natural sciences. In this context, complexity can be defined in physics and mathematics by higher level of unpredictability level, which is not the case in social worlds. Hypercom-plexity is based on massive interactions between actors, objects, and environments and this interactivity is all the more intelligible when actors’ expectations, desires, fears, and projects are known. As a result, future can be addressed as a more accessible as well as a more essential object for social sciences. The examples of “demographic transition” and of individual residential choices clearly illustrate this proposition.

Keywords: Complexity, hypercomplexity, systems, actors, intention­ality, unpredictability.

Henri Atlan

Complexity of Natural Systems and Under-Determination of Theories: A possible Limitation on Modelling (Complexité des systèmes naturels et sous-détermination des théories : une possible limite de la modélisation) (p. 35–45)


In Probabilistic Information Theory, as in Algorithm and Programming theory, there is no need to worry about how we understand or how we come to create meaning. Within each of these complex cases, we run into the same paradox: formal identity between maximum complexity and randomness (i.e. disorder within maximum statistical homogeneity). And, in both cases, the solution to this paradox consists of ignoring that sense and meaning exist a priori while supposing it does, which eliminates the hypothesis of randomness. It isn’t until recently that paper in Algorithmic Complexity have attempted to solve this paradox, taking into consideration a definition of complexity that is meaning based. A first approach is to account for complexity in noise. A second, more recent approach, uses Multi-Agent Cellular Automata Systems to catch the emergence of functional meaning within the self-organizing networks. As a result of these approaches, we find a large under-determination of theories within the facts, and a small number of networks that allow us to retrace the origins and even quantify them. This under-determination of theory appears to be the most specta­cular expression of what is natural complexity.

Keywords: Randomness, algorithmic complexity, complexity in noise, natural complexity, model limitations, self-organi­zing properties, meaning, cellular automata, under-deter­mination of theories.

J. Stephen Lansing

Compexity and Anthropology (Complexité et anthropologie) (p. 47–52)


Today’s mathematics of complex systems offer a variety of tools to investigate the macroscopic properties of interactions that occur along a temporal dimension. By tracing patterns of interaction among the elements of a system, one can often discover emergent properties at a higher level. In retrospect it seems remarkable that a few simple insights from the formal analysis of complex systems should have been so illuminating in diverse fields of inquiry. Even if the concept of progressive development — and historical contingency — is hardly new to anthropology, it is necessary to go beyond descriptive statistics or equilibrium models to explore historical contingency to break the seal of reification on the existing social order. Evolving networks are inevitably path dependent; future states are constrained by the past. But as new studies show, agency in the more powerful sense of the ability to shape genuine innovations can arise from the ordinary form of agency exhibited by people going about their daily business of commerce, marriage and politics.

Keywords: Complex systems, progressive development, historical contingency, statistics, anthropology, history.

David C. Krakauer

Evolution, Complexity and metahistoricism (Évolution, complexité et métahistoricisme) (p. 53–67)


History seeks to combine particular descriptions within general frameworks in order to explain event sequences. In this respect, history is a transdisciplinary approach that encompasses a range of fields, from biology and geology, through to anthropology and human history. I seek to characterize this general metahistorical framework as an instance of a complex, evolutionary and genealogical dynamic. This involves a specification of the modes of information transmission, the levels of system function, the identification of multiple, causal variables, and a means of disentangling contingent events from regular processes through which these events are filtered.

Keywords: Complexity, evolution, history, metahistory, contin­gency.

Simon Laflamme

Complexity as Wisdom, Lucidity and Liberty. Interview with Jacques Zylberberg (La complexité comme sagesse, lucidité et liberté. Interview with Jacques Zylberberg) (p. 69–81)


In this interview, Jacques Zylberberg expresses himself on the role the concept of complexity has played in his research. The reader finds out that Zylberberg came to complexity in discovering that it is more vanishing knowledge than data accumulation; that it constitutes a particular way for describing the world or, furthermore, a way for questioning it; since knowledge is limited, it must continuously be challenged, reconstructed. Associated with the obligation of a continuous questioning, complexity is ethics, a position not only analytical, but moral, whose main terms are wisdom, lucidity, and liberty.

Keywords: Complexity, knowledge, ethics.

Roger Gervais and Simon Laflamme

Object’s Complexity and Analytical Categories. Analysis of a Corpus about Different International Organizations (Complexité de l’objet et catégories analytiques. Analyse d’un corpus sur divers organismes internationaux) (p. 85–114)


This article verifies three epistemological hypotheses. The first proposes that human sciences, when studying a specific research topic, almost by necessity, take on an interdisciplinary approach. The second believes that, when scrutinizing a particular subject, human science papers tend to gravitate among a limited number of semantic categories. The third hypothesis suggests that both analytical and ethical standpoints are strongly associated. To verify these hypotheses, this paper analyses thousands of article abstracts published in pear reviewed journals pertaining to international organizations. All three hypotheses are confirmed.

Keywords: Intergovernmental organizations, complexity, pluridisci­plinary, interdisciplinary, qualitative data analysis.