Glossary for Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement

Just as it is said that the index of a book is the last chance for the author to shape how the book is read, a glossary can convey the sensibility of a book.  Below is the glossary for Taylor, Peter J. (2005) Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement.  The place in the book where the terms are introduced or elaborated on is given in parentheses.  Items in italics are described elsewhere in the glossary.

Accessory conditions. Features that are built in and assumed when analyzing a model but are not the distinguishing features which explicitly characterize the model (Chapter 2).

Adaptive Environmental Management (AEM). Environmental management that is adjusted (along with the models used in the formulation of management policy) following assessment of the outcomes, such as, the outcomes of deliberate policy experimentation. AEM begins with recognition that the dynamics of any ecological situation are not fully captured by any model or composite of models, especially because management practices produce continuing changes in those dynamics and make the ecological situation a moving target (note 19).

Agent. A person whose thinking, decisions, and actions the analyst or interpreter is trying to associate with specific environmental, scientific, or social changes (Chapter 3ff). See also concentrated, distributed, and vibrating agency.

Apparent interactions. The values of parameters in a model that best fits the observations of part of an ecological community when that model makes no explicit reference to the dynamics of the rest of the community. These values are not necessarily close to the direct interactions and may be counter-intuitive (Chapter 1, section B).

Complexity. A composite of the number, interconnectedness, heterogeneity, and variability (in space and time) of the factors influencing the situation under study (Chapter 1, section A). See also unruly complexity.

Community. See ecological community.

Concentrated agency. Thinking, decisions, and actions of agents that emphasize their independence from other agents and ability to impart order according to their ideas or beliefs (Chapter 4, section A). See also distributed and vibrating agency.

Conceptual exploration. Playing with themes and models so as to open up questions in broad terms that might transfer across different fields while, at the same time, keeping the limitations of such themes and models in view (Prologue).

Confirmation. Showing that the distinguishing features of a causal model and, independently, that the model’s accessory conditions correspond to observations.

Construction. Processes through which entities are connected over time (or through definite steps) into an outcome that has structure and is subject to ongoing restructuring (Chapter 1, section A; Chapter 4). See also heterogeneous construction.

Counterfactual. An idea of what else could have been if some feature of a situation were replaced by something else—things that might have occurred but did not. The counterfactual is logically implied whenever there is a causal claim that the feature made a difference (Chapter 4, section A; notes 17 and 20).

Critical reflection on practice. Self-conscious, systematic efforts by researchers or other agents to understand the social and technical conditions in which their practice takes shape by placing those conditions in tension with alternatives (Prologue).

Distributed agency. Thinking, decisions, and actions of agents that recognize their contingent and ongoing mobilizing of webs of diverse materials, tools, and other people (Chapter 4, section A). See heterogeneous construction, and concentrated and vibrating agency.

Ecology. i) The diversity of interactions that some organisms or people are involved in (whether directly or indirectly through extended chains of influence). The complexity of these interactions is constructed over time; ii) Scientific research or knowledge regarding those interactions; iii) Social actions responding to the degradation of the environment of humans and other species (Prologue; Chapter 1ff).

Ecological-like complexity. Unruly complexity in realms other than ecology (Prologue).

Ecological community. A defined group of interacting populations of different species, which forms part of an ecosystem (narrative at the start of Part I; note 5).

Ecological situation. A situation from ecology, which consists of the diversity of interactions that some organisms or people are involved in (Chapter 1).

Ecological system or ecosystem. A defined set of living and non-living entities (or “compartments”) among which energy and nutrients flow (narrative at the start of Part I; note 5).

Embeddedness. The interconnectedness of the dynamics of a situation and the dynamics of a situation at a larger scale in time and space (Prologue).   See also situatedness and intersecting processes.

Engagement. An agent’s deliberate involvement in a situation in ways that presume that other agents will also take an active role and that the situation cannot be understood or managed from an outside vantage point. Engaging implies a more participatory spirit than intervening (Chapter 4ff). See also representing-engaging.

Exploratory modeling and theorizing. Conceptual exploration that uses models in the sense of frameworks to derive new terms, questions, and theoretical relationships. This contrasts with theorizing that is centered around specific hypotheses that can be readily tested, or, more generally, that favors making incremental changes to the current terms, tools, and subject matter of a field (Chapter 2).

Flexible engagement. An ideal in which researchers in any knowledge-making situation are able to connect quickly with others who are almost ready—either formally or otherwise—to foster participatory processes and, through the experience such processes provide their participants, contribute to enhancing the capacity of others to do likewise (Epilogue, section B).

Framework. One or more propositions or themes that guide the inquiry of researchers by focusing their attention on certain situations and processes (Chapter 2).

Heterogeneous construction. Construction of science-in-the-making from diverse materials, tools, people, and other resources. In heterogeneous construction researchers establish knowledge and develop their practices through diverse and often modest practical choices, which is the same as saying they are involved in contingent and on-going mobilizing of materials, tools, people, and other resources into webs of interconnected resources (Chapter 4, especially at the end).

Heterogeneous constructionism. The perspective that science in the making can be interpreted as heterogeneous construction (Chapter 4).

Heterogeneous web. See web of resources.

Interpretive studies of science. Historical, philosophical, and sociological studies concerned with explaining or describing the dynamics and course of scientific inquiries (narrative at start of Part II).

Intersecting processes. Processes operating at different spatial and temporal scales that transgress the boundaries of the situation under consideration and restructure its “internal” dynamics. The term characterizes the same terrain as unruly complexity, but is used to suggest that different strands of the processes can be teased out in a somewhat disciplined fashion (narrative at the end of Chapter 1; Chapter 5, section C). Viewing the activities of researchers in terms of intersecting processes is very similar to heterogeneous constructionism.

Mapping. A process in which researchers identify “connections” to a key issue—things that motivated, facilitated, or constrained their inquiry and action—then create and revise pictorial depictions—maps—that employ conventions of size, spatial arrangement, and perhaps color so as to allow many connections to be viewed simultaneously. The map metaphor connotes not a scaled-down representation of reality but a device that shows the way—a guide for further inquiry or action (Chapter 5, section C).

Metaphor. Features and associations borrowed or carried across from one situation so as to animate our thinking about another situation. This process unavoidably affects our thinking about the primary situation. Identifying scientists’ metaphors can illuminate why certain categories are plausible and certain lines of inquiry are pursued (Chapter 3; note 11).

Model. Mathematical equations, verbal or pictorial representations, or material devices that researchers use to depict certain situations and examine the relationships among certain entities in those situations. The status or use of a model depends on the level of correspondence with observations (the degree of fit and the strictness with which accessory conditions have been established) and the ways the modeler attempts to expand or disturb acceptance of the model (Chapter 2). See also theory.

Nomadic pastoralist. Herders living in semi-arid climates where rainfall is variable, unpredictable and spatially patchy, who spend at least part of their year roaming in search of patches of watered pasture. Within this definition the historical and geographic variation is enormous (Chapter 4, section B).

Opening up Theme. Themes that build in a persistent opening up of issues—that point to the hidden complexity of simple formulations and to further work needed to address the differentiated detail and other complexities of particular cases (Chapter 6).

Organicism. The perspective that social or ecological organization consists of components that work together in a hierarchical division of labor to maintain the unity and stability of the whole, just as the organs of an organism do. Terms such as adjustment, adaptation, integration and function are common in organicist discourse (Chapter 3).

Participatory action research. Inquiries that are shaped through researchers’ ongoing work with and empowerment of the people most affected by some aspect of economic or social change (note 32).

Partitionable. The property of two situations whereby their dynamics are at most loosely linked to each other. The opposite of one of the situations being embedded in the other or affected by intersecting processes (Prologue; see also note 17 on the non-partitionability of causes).

Political ecology. The study of specific cases of environmental degradation in terms of links among local changes in agro-ecologies, labor supply and the organization of production, and wider political-economic conditions (narrative at the end of Chapter 4).

Practical reflexivity. Reflexivity that takes into account the range of practical conditions that enable researchers to build and gain support for their representations (Chapter 5, section A).

Process. Sequences of events that persist or are repeated sufficiently long for us to notice them and need to explain them. In this book, process is not used in the sense of a basic underlying causal structure that allows people to explain events as instances of the process or as noisy deviations from it (note 23).

Referentiality. The relationship of a model or theory to scientific observations of the phenomenom modeled (narrative at start of Part II).

Reflexivity. Applying one’s analytical approach to one’s own work (note 21).

Representation. A model or theory used to depict certain situations and draw attention to relationships among certain entities in those situations (Chapter 2).

Representing-engaging. The process of deriving a representation in which scientists are simultaneously and jointly acting or engaging in various arenas of social activity—building careers and institutions, using and transforming language and ideology, facilitating policy formulation, and so on (Chapter 4).

Resource. Material, tools, persons, and other things, which researchers mobilize during the heterogeneous construction of science, that make a claim or a course of action more difficult for others to modify. By extension, a resource for one person is a constraint for another person trying to modify the first’s claim or action (Chapter 4).

Situation. A catch-all term that, like system, denotes that the phenomena under consideration have many elements interacting, but unlike system does not connote boundedness, coherent dynamics, or stability (Prologue).

Situatedness. Embeddedness of agents in social situations. Situated scientific agents are mindful both of the situation they are studying and of the social realms in which they act, and that they project continuously between these realms (Chapter 4).

Social-personal-scientific correlation. The interpretation of the outcomes of research as supporting and supported by the researchers’ concerns about social order and their personal life histories (Chapter 3).

Social construction. A process through which scientists weave their social context or their experience of being social agents into the knowledge they establish (note 14). See also representation-engagement and heterogeneous construction.

Sociality. Interactions among researchers to establish what counts as knowledge, which involves disputes and dialogue around methods, observations, conclusions, and practical applications (narrative at start of Part II).

Socio-environmental studies. Research in fields such as environmental science, resource economics, geography, and anthropology that focuses on the ways social relations influence environmental change and the dynamics of ecological situations influence social change (Chapter 4).

Stability. The degree to which a system resists perturbations in its composition or in the size of its components and returns to its former state after perturbation, in particular, to a steady state or equilibrium point (Chapter 1, section A).

Strong system. See system.

Structure. Regularities in situations that persist long enough for agents to recognize or abide by them (Prologue; Chapter 5, section C).

System. i) Phenomena in which there are many elements interacting (loose view); ii) A well-bounded entity in which many components interact, which has coherent internal dynamics that govern the system’s development and responses to external influences (Prologue; note 5; Chapter 3; Chapter 4, section B; Chapter 5, section C; Chapter 6).

Systems ecology. The scientific study of the flow of nutrients and energy through an entire ecosystem, including the decomposer components (Chapter 3).

Technocratic optimism. Optimism after World War II about the possibilities for technocratic management of society, which left little room for doubts about its possible implications for democratic political life (Chapter 3).

Technocratic management. i) The use of technical measures to address social problems (loose view); ii) Through the use of science to reduce social complexity to mechanical relationships scientists and engineers manage society at a distance from specific interests and political details and in the best interests of everyone (strong view). As is typical of social philosophies framed in terms of universal interests, proponents of technocratic management build a special place for themselves in the proposed social organization or governance (Chapter 3; Chapter 4, section B).

Theme. A catch-all term to include propositions, concepts, analogies, models, or heuristics that researchers use to focus attention on certain situations and processes when the intent is not immediate empirical validation but to stimulate our thinking, open up questions, and orient our inquiries. In this spirit themes should be expected to break down when applied broadly (Chapter 2). See conceptual exploration.

Theory. One or more models making up a “fabric” so that only some models—those at the edge of the fabric—are exposed for empirical scrutiny. Other models woven into the theoretical fabric may be left not explicit (Chapter 2).

Trajectory. Changes over time in the size of populations in an eecological community.

Unruly complexity. Situations that do not have clearly defined boundaries, coherent internal dynamics, and simply mediated relations with their external context, i.e., that are not strong systems. Instead, there is an ongoing change in the structure of the situation as it builds up over time from heterogeneous components and is embedded or situated within wider dynamics (Prologue; Chapter 5, section C).

Vibrating agency. Thinking, decisions, and actions of agents that move between concentrated and distributed views of their own agency. Although system-like formulations about one’s social situatedness serve as resources for agents in their knowledge-making, the same agents can acknowledge their dependency on diverse materials, tools, and other people that are mobilized in particular, contingent social situations (Chapter 6, section C).

Web of resources. Diverse resources that are interconnected in the practice of science. See also heterogeneous construction (Chapter 4).

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