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Alternative Pathways to Complexity
A Collection of Essays on Architecture, Economics, Power, and Cross-Cultural Analysis
Lane F. Fargher
University Press of Colorado, 2016
Alternative Pathways to Complexity focuses on the themes of architecture, economics, and power in the evolution of complex societies. Case studies from Mesoamerica, Asia, Africa, and Europe examine the relationship between political structures and economic configurations of ancient chiefdoms and states through a framework of comparative archaeology.
A group of highly distinguished scholars takes up important issues, theories, and methods stemming from the nascent body of research on comparative archaeology to showcase and apply important theories of households, power, and how the development of complex societies can be extended and refined. Drawing on the archaeological, ethnohistorical, and ethnographic records, the chapters in this volume contain critical investigations on the role of collective action, economics, and corporate cognitive codes in structuring complex societies.
Alternative Pathways to Complexity is an important addition to theoretical development and empirical research on Mesoamerica, the Old World, and cross-cultural studies. The theoretical implications addressed in the chapters will have broad appeal for scholars grappling with alternative pathways to complexity in other regions as well as those addressing diverse cross-cultural research.
Contributors: Sarah B. Barber, Cynthia L. Bedell, Christopher S. Beekman, Frances F. Berdan, Tim Earle, Carol R. Ember, Gary M. Feinman, Arthur A. Joyce, Stephen A. Kowalewski, Lisa J. LeCount, Linda M. Nicholas, Peter N. Peregrine, Peter Robertshaw, Barbara L. Stark, T. L. Thurston, Deborah Winslow, Rita Wright

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Biology's First Law
The Tendency for Diversity and Complexity to Increase in Evolutionary Systems
Daniel W. McShea and Robert N. Brandon
University of Chicago Press, 2010

Life on earth is characterized by three striking phenomena that demand explanation: adaptation—the marvelous fit between organism and environment; diversity—the great variety of organisms; and complexity—the enormous intricacy of their internal structure. Natural selection explains adaptation. But what explains diversity and complexity? Daniel W. McShea and Robert N. Brandon argue that there exists in evolution a spontaneous tendency toward increased diversity and complexity, one that acts whether natural selection is present or not. They call this tendency a biological law—the Zero-Force Evolutionary Law, or ZFEL. This law unifies the principles and data of biology under a single framework and invites a reconceptualization of the field of the same sort that Newton’s First Law brought to physics.


Biology’s First Law shows how the ZFEL can be applied to the study of diversity and complexity and examines its wider implications for biology. Intended for evolutionary biologists, paleontologists, and other scientists studying complex systems, and written in a concise and engaging format that speaks to students and interdisciplinary practitioners alike, this book will also find an appreciative audience in the philosophy of science.


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Challenging the Performance Movement
Accountability, Complexity, and Democratic Values
Beryl A. Radin
Georgetown University Press, 2006

"Accountability" is a watchword of our era. Dissatisfaction with a range of public and private institutions is widespread and often expressed in strong critical rhetoric. The reasons for these views are varied and difficult to translate into concrete action, but this hasn't deterred governments and nongovernmental organizations from putting into place formal processes for determining whether their own and others' goals have been achieved and problems with performance have been avoided.

In this thought-provoking book, government and public administration scholar Beryl Radin takes on many of the assumptions of the performance movement, arguing that evaluation relies too often on simplistic, one-size-fits-all solutions that are not always effective for dynamic organizations. Drawing on a wide range of ideas, including theories of intelligence and modes of thought, assumptions about numbers and information, and the nature of professionalism, Radin sheds light on the hidden complexities of creating standards to evaluate performance. She illustrates these problems by discussing a range of program areas, including health efforts as well as the education program, "No Child Left Behind."

Throughout, the author devotes particular attention to concerns about government standards, from accounting for issues of equity to allowing for complicated intergovernmental relationships and fragmentation of powers. She explores in detail how recent performance measurement efforts in the U.S. government have fared, and analyzes efforts by nongovernmental organizations both inside and outside of the United States to impose standards of integrity and equity on their governments. The examination concludes with alternative assumptions and lessons for those embarking on performance measurement activities.


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Life at the Edge of Chaos
Roger Lewin
University of Chicago Press, 2000
"Put together one of the world's best science writers with one of the universe's most fascinating subjects and you are bound to produce a wonderful book. . . . The subject of complexity is vital and controversial. This book is important and beautifully done."—Stephen Jay Gould

"[Complexity] is that curious mix of complication and organization that we find throughout the natural and human worlds: the workings of a cell, the structure of the brain, the behavior of the stock market, the shifts of political power. . . . It is time science . . . thinks about meaning as well as counting information. . . . This is the core of the complexity manifesto. Read it, think about it . . . but don't ignore it."—Ian Stewart, Nature

This second edition has been brought up to date with an essay entitled "On the Edge in the Business World" and an interview with John Holland, author of Emergence: From Chaos to Order.


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Cosmic Evolution
The Rise of Complexity in Nature
Eric J. Chaisson
Harvard University Press, 2001

We are connected to distant space and time not only by our imaginations but also through a common cosmic heritage. Emerging now from modern science is a unified scenario of the cosmos, including ourselves as sentient beings, based on the time-honored concept of change. From galaxies to snowflakes, from stars and planets to life itself, we are beginning to identify an underlying ubiquitous pattern penetrating the fabric of all the natural sciences--a sweepingly encompassing view of the order and structure of every known class of object in our richly endowed universe.

This is the subject of Eric Chaisson's new book. In Cosmic Evolution Chaisson addresses some of the most basic issues we can contemplate: the origin of matter and the origin of life, and the ways matter, life, and radiation interact and change with time. Guided by notions of beauty and symmetry, by the search for simplicity and elegance, by the ambition to explain the widest range of phenomena with the fewest possible principles, Chaisson designs for us an expansive yet intricate model depicting the origin and evolution of all material structures. He shows us that neither new science nor appeals to nonscience are needed to understand the impressive hierarchy of the cosmic evolutionary story, from quark to quasar, from microbe to mind.


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Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy
Saskia Sassen
Harvard University Press, 2014

Soaring income inequality and unemployment, expanding populations of the displaced and imprisoned, accelerating destruction of land and water bodies: today’s socioeconomic and environmental dislocations cannot be fully understood in the usual terms of poverty and injustice, according to Saskia Sassen. They are more accurately understood as a type of expulsion—from professional livelihood, from living space, even from the very biosphere that makes life possible.

This hard-headed critique updates our understanding of economics for the twenty-first century, exposing a system with devastating consequences even for those who think they are not vulnerable. From finance to mining, the complex types of knowledge and technology we have come to admire are used too often in ways that produce elementary brutalities. These have evolved into predatory formations—assemblages of knowledge, interests, and outcomes that go beyond a firm’s or an individual’s or a government’s project.

Sassen draws surprising connections to illuminate the systemic logic of these expulsions. The sophisticated knowledge that created today’s financial “instruments” is paralleled by the engineering expertise that enables exploitation of the environment, and by the legal expertise that allows the world’s have-nations to acquire vast stretches of territory from the have-nots. Expulsions lays bare the extent to which the sheer complexity of the global economy makes it hard to trace lines of responsibility for the displacements, evictions, and eradications it produces—and equally hard for those who benefit from the system to feel responsible for its depredations.


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Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy
Saskia Sassen
Harvard University Press

An Observer Architecture Book of the Year

Soaring income inequality and unemployment, expanding populations of the displaced and imprisoned, accelerating destruction of land and water bodies: today’s socioeconomic and environmental dislocations cannot be fully understood in the usual terms of poverty and injustice, according to Saskia Sassen. They are more accurately understood as a type of expulsion—from professional livelihood, from living space, even from the very biosphere that makes life possible.

“Saskia Sassen’s Expulsions describes the global forces that make ever more tenuous and fragile most people’s grip on the places where they live.”
—Rowan Moore, The Observer

“Coupled with her earlier work, this may be a paradigm breaking/making work.”
—Michael D. Kennedy, Contemporary Sociology

“Once again, sociologist Sassen uses her considerable knowledge to think creatively at both the local and global levels…In place of the principle of inclusion in the pre-1980s Keynesian era, the planet is increasingly dominated by a principle of exclusion of people, land, natural resources, and water. Sassen presents a powerful conceptual analysis and an equally powerful and timely call to action.”
—M. Oromaner, Choice


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Joyce, Chaos, and Complexity
Thomas Jackson Rice
University of Illinois Press, 1997
Thomas Rice compellingly argues that James Joyce's work resists postmodernist approaches of ambiguity: Joyce never abandoned his conviction that reality exists, regardless of the human ability to represent it.
Placing Joyce in his cultural context, Rice first traces the influence of Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometries on Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. He then demonstrates that, when later innovations in science transformed entire worldviews, Joyce recognized conventional literary modes of representation as offering only arbitrary constructions of this reality. Joyce responded in Ulysses by experimenting with perspective, embedding design, and affirming the existence of reality. Rice contends that Ulysses presages the multiple tensions of chaos theory; likewise, chaos theory can serve as a model for understanding Ulysses. In Finnegans Wake Joyce consummates his vision and anticipates the theories of complexity science through a dynamic approximation of reality.

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Model Behavior
Animal Experiments, Complexity, and the Genetics of Psychiatric Disorders
Nicole C. Nelson
University of Chicago Press, 2018
Mice are used as model organisms across a wide range of fields in science today—but it is far from obvious how studying a mouse in a maze can help us understand human problems like alcoholism or anxiety. How do scientists convince funders, fellow scientists, the general public, and even themselves that animal experiments are a good way of producing knowledge about the genetics of human behavior? In Model Behavior, Nicole C. Nelson takes us inside an animal behavior genetics laboratory to examine how scientists create and manage the foundational knowledge of their field.

Behavior genetics is a particularly challenging field for making a clear-cut case that mouse experiments work, because researchers believe that both the phenomena they are studying and the animal models they are using are complex. These assumptions of complexity change the nature of what laboratory work produces. Whereas historical and ethnographic studies traditionally portray the laboratory as a place where scientists control, simplify, and stabilize nature in the service of producing durable facts, the laboratory that emerges from Nelson’s extensive interviews and fieldwork is a place where stable findings are always just out of reach. The ongoing work of managing precarious experimental systems means that researchers learn as much—if not more—about the impact of the environment on behavior as they do about genetics. Model Behavior offers a compelling portrait of life in a twenty-first-century laboratory, where partial, provisional answers to complex scientific questions are increasingly the norm.

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The Moment of Complexity
Emerging Network Culture
Mark C. Taylor
University of Chicago Press, 2001
"The Moment of Complexity is a profoundly original work. In remarkable and insightful ways, Mark Taylor traces an entirely new way to view the evolution of our culture, detailing how information theory and the scientific concept of complexity can be used to understand recent developments in the arts and humanities. This book will ultimately be seen as a classic."-John L. Casti, Santa Fe Institute, author of Gödel: A Life of Logic, the Mind, and Mathematics

The science of complexity accounts for that inscrutable mix of chaos and order that governs our natural world. Complexity explains how networks emerge and function, how species organize into ecosystems, how stars form into galaxies, and how just a few sequences of DNA can account for so many different life forms. Recently, the idea of complexity has taken the worlds of business and politics by storm. The concept is used to account for phenomena as varied as the behavior of the stock market, the response of voting populations, and the effects of risk management. Even Disney has used complexity theory to manage crowd control at its theme parks.

Given the startling development of new information technologies, we now live in a moment of unprecedented complexity, an era in which change occurs faster than our ability to comprehend it. With The Moment of Complexity, Mark C. Taylor offers a timely map for this unfamiliar terrain opening in our midst, unfolding an original philosophy through a remarkable synthesis of science and culture. According to Taylor, complexity is not just a breakthrough scientific concept, but the defining quality of the post-Cold War era. The flux of digital currents swirling around us, he argues, has created a new network culture with its own distinctive logic and dynamic.

Drawing on resources from information theory and evolutionary biology, Taylor explains the operation of complex adaptive systems in social and cultural processes and captures a whole new zeitgeist in the making. To appreciate the significance of our emerging network culture, he claims, we need not only to understand contemporary scientific and technological transformations, but also to explore the subtle influences of art, architecture, philosophy, religion, and higher education. The Moment of Complexity, then, is a remarkable work of cultural analysis on a scale rarely seen today. To follow its trajectory is to learn how we arrived at this critical moment in our culture, and to know where we might head in the twenty-first century.

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More Than Blue, More Than Yankee
Complexity and Change in New England Politics
Edited by Amy Fried and Erin O’Brien
University of Massachusetts Press, 2024

New England politics can, at first blush, appear monochromatic. After all, only one member of the entire region’s delegation to the US Congress is a Republican, and citizens have elected few Republicans to the US House or Senate in the last decade. But this has not always been the case. In 1948, only two states in the region–Rhode Island and Connecticut–had Democratic senators. Yet a closer examination of the region today reveals fascinating political variation. Liberal policies, greater diversity, and engaged political movements are reshaping stereotypical Yankee tendencies of close-fisted government, whiteness, and laconic discourse.

This collection of new essays captures both the political history and contemporary moment in this region and exposes the surprisingly varied political landscape. It examines historical shifts, regional developments, and the politics of its states to argue that New England has been and continues to be an important part of the national political puzzle, from demonstrating democratic principles in early America to producing major contemporary figures such as Elizabeth Warren, Ayanna Pressley, and Susan Collins. The political shifts at work in New England mirror the South’s transformation, but have received much less attention. This volume corrects that omission by profiling political movements and candidates, political rhetoric from activists to pundits, and demographics and voting in each state as well as the region as a whole.

In addition to material by the editors, this important collection includes contributions from Rachael V. Cobb, Jerold Duquette, Christopher J. Galdieri, Jane JaKyung Han, Douglas B. Harris, Luis Jiménez, Scott McLean, James Melcher, Maureen Moakley, Paul Petterson, and Dante J. Scala.


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Recent Developments in Southeastern Archaeology
From Colonization to Complexity
David G. Anderson
University Press of Colorado, 2012
This book in the SAA Press Current Perspectives Series represents a period-by-period synthesis of southeastern prehistory designed for high school and college students, avocational archaeologists, and interested members of the general public. It also serves as a basic reference for professional archaeologists worldwide on the record of a remarkable region.

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Regional Pathways to Complexity
Settlement and Land-Use Dynamics in Early Italy from the Bronze Age to the Republican Period
Peter Attema, Gert Jan Burgers, and Martijn Van Leusen
Amsterdam University Press, 2011

Synthesizing almost thirty years of Dutch archaeological research in central and southern Italy, this book discusses and compares settlement and land use patterns from the late protohistoric period to the late Roman Republic. Considering both social and environmental factors, the authors analyze the long-term progression of indigenous Bronze Age tribal pastoralist societies towards the complexity of urbanized Roman society. Drawing on a decade of collaboration between Dutch and Italian researchers, this exhaustive study will be of great interest to students and scholars of Mediterranean archaeology.   


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Revisiting McKeithen Weeden Island
Complexity, Ritual, and Pottery
Prudence M. Rice
University of Alabama Press, 2024

Reassesses the ancient Indigenous McKeithen site in northern Florida in light of new data, analyses, and theories

Revisiting McKeithen Weeden Island further illuminates an Indigenous Late Woodland (ca. AD 200–900) mound-and-village community in northern Florida that was first excavated in the late 1970s. Since then, some artifacts received additional analyses, and the topic of prechiefdom societies has been broadly reconsidered in anthropology and archaeology. These developments allow new perspectives on McKeithen’s history and significance.

Prudence M. Rice, a Mayanist who began her career at the University of Florida, revisits what is known about McKeithen and recontextualizes the 1970s excavations. Weeden Island and McKeithen are best known through mortuary mounds and mortuary ritual, mainly involving unusual pottery bird effigies. Rice discusses current theoretical trends in studies of ritual and belief systems and their relation to mound-building at McKeithen in early stages of developing societal complexity.

Revisiting McKeithen Weeden Island serves as a masterful example of an esteemed archaeologist advancing the field through rethought and updated interpretations of the site and its significance, primarily through its pottery. Rice’s case study ultimately also fosters understanding of later Mississippian society and other civilizations around the world at this time period. Archaeologists, anthropologists, and social historians as well as students and avocational readers will welcome Rice’s insight.




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Simplicity and Complexity in Games of the Intellect
Lawrence Slobodkin
Harvard University Press, 1992

“If it were necessary, for some curious legal reason, to draw a clear line between human and nonhuman—for example, if a group of Australopithecines were to appear and one had to decide if they were to be protected by Fair Employment Laws or by the ASPCA—I would welcome them as humans if I knew that they were seriously concerned about how to bury their dead.” In this witty and wise way, Lawrence Slobodkin takes us on a spirited quest for the multiple meanings of simplicity in all facets of life.

Slobodkin begins at the beginning, with a consideration of how simplicity came into play in the development of religious doctrines. He nimbly moves on to the arts—where he ranges freely from dining to painting—and then focuses more sharply on the role of simplicity in science. Here we witness the historical beginnings of modern science as a search for the fewest number of terms, the smallest number of assumptions, or the lowest exponents, while still meeting criteria for descriptive accuracy. The result may be an elegant hypothetical system that generates the apparent world from less apparent assumptions, as with the Newtonian revolution; or it may mean deducing non-obvious processes from everyday facts, as with the Darwinian revolution.

Slobodkin proposes that the best intellectual work is done as if it were a game on a simplified playing field. He supplies serious arguments for considering the role of simplification and playfulness in all of our activities. The immediate effect of his unfailingly captivating essay is to throw open a new window on the world and to refresh our perspectives on matters of the heart and mind.


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Unsimple Truths
Science, Complexity, and Policy
Sandra D. Mitchell
University of Chicago Press, 2009

The world is complex, but acknowledging its complexity requires an appreciation for the many roles context plays in shaping natural phenomena. In Unsimple Truths, Sandra Mitchell argues that the long-standing scientific and philosophical deference to reductive explanations founded on simple universal laws, linear causal models, and predict-and-act strategies fails to accommodate the kinds of knowledge that many contemporary sciences are providing about the world. She advocates, instead, for a new understanding that represents the rich, variegated, interdependent fabric of many levels and kinds of explanation that are integrated with one another to ground effective prediction and action.

Mitchell draws from diverse fields including psychiatry, social insect biology, and studies of climate change to defend “integrative pluralism”—a theory of scientific practices that makes sense of how many natural and social sciences represent the multi-level, multi-component, dynamic structures they study. She explains how we must, in light of the now-acknowledged complexity and contingency of biological and social systems, revise how we conceptualize the world, how we investigate the world, and how we act in the world. Ultimately Unsimple Truths argues that the very idea of what should count as legitimate science itself should change.


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