Tag Archives: unruly complexity

Five principles or themes for addressing unruly social and ecological complexities

On the presumption that the dynamic flux of ecological and social complexities cannot be well understood from an outside view…
Continue reading


From Complexity to Construction to Intersecting Processes: Puzzles for Theoretical and Social Inquiry

Although stable systems may be extremely rare as a fraction of the complex ecological systems being sampled (as shown in the 1970s theoretical work of Robert May), they can be readily constructed over time by the addition of populations from a pool of populations or by elimination of populations from systems not at a steady state. The implications of such a constructionist perspective could challenge not only ecologists, but also theorists in all fields that make use of models without a process of construction over time of the complexity of the situation studied.

A paper to appear in the journal Ecological Complexity centers not so much on advancing this perspective, but on two consequent puzzles:
Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Philosophy of ecology

Abstract of updated article to appear in Encyclopedia of the Life Sciences,

Although philosophy of ecology was slow to become established as an area of formal philosophical interest, there is a rich history of developing and debating conceptual frameworks in ecological and environmental science. A key challenge in conceptualising ecological complexity is to allow simultaneously for particularity, contingency and structure – structure, moreover, that changes, is internally differentiated, and has problematic boundaries. In contrast to ambitions of earlier decades for identifying general principles about systems and communities, ecologists now widely assert historical contingency, nonequilibrium formulations, local context and individual detail. Given that all organisms – humans included – live in dynamic ecological contexts, philosophy of ecology raises more general questions about conceptualising the positionality of humans and other organisms in the dynamic flux of their intersecting worlds.

Ecological philosophy: A series of impulses in addressing complexity

A 22-minute youtube of ecological philosophy, taken to refer to conceptual frameworks in ecological and environmental science.

Given the gaps in my knowledge of the literature, especially recent research, I would be grateful for any suggestions listeners/readers can provide, however brief. For example, I would be helped by getting notes of significant publications you think I might have omitted, categories (or, in my terms, impulses) I have overlooked or misconstrued, and so on.  (If you are really interested a draft of the article that the youtube gives an overview of can be viewed at http://ptaylor.wikispaces.umb.edu/EcologicalPhilosophy.) Continue reading

What if everything is always already unruly complexity?

Open this pdf, then listen to this mp3 (18minutes)

(An 18-minute talk related to Taylor, P. J. Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.)

Some thoughts about border-ing

1.              Starting position: Around the mid-1980s as a doctoral student in ecology, I became aware of the work of the anthropologist, Eric Wolf, which primed me to look in areas other than ecology for ways to think about problematic boundaries (or borders): “’Societies’ emerge as changing alignments of social groups, segments, and classes, without either fixed boundaries or stable internal constitutions.”  If anthropologists observe “transgenerational continuity, institutional stability, and normative consensus,” they should seek “to understand such characteristics historically, to note the conditions for their emergence, maintenance and abrogation.  Rather than thinking of social alignments as self-determining… we need… to visualize them in their multiple external connections” (Wolf Europe and the People Without History, 1982, 387).  In other words, whenever theory has built on the dynamic unity and coherency of structures or units—in Wolf’s case, societies or cultures—researchers could invert this and consider what would follow if those units were to be explained as contingent outcomes of intersections among processes that implicate or span a range of spatial and temporal scales.

2.              Borders are constructed within such intersecting processes.

3.              If borders seems natural or unproblematic, that needs explanation as a special case of intersecting processes.

4.              Borders are policed, with more or less seriousness.  (This can be part of the explanation of natural/unproblematic borders.)

5.              Interesting things happen when different kinds of dynamics intersect, that is, when the dynamics, which previously seemed well-bordered (although these borders were always constructed), cross the borders, e.g., ecotones, “invasive” species interact with indigenous.  (Note, however, that a focus on borderlands, such as ecotones, often takes for granted, i.e., without examination, the dynamics of the areas outside the ecotone.)

6.              Interesting things can be made to happen when different kinds of dynamics intersect.  E.g., when we see borders as problematic and examine those dynamics, we illuminate not only the construction of the borders, but also the possibilities of alternative constructions.

7.               All of the above apply to ecological dynamics as much as any other kind of boundary or border.   The concept of boundary object in sociology of science refers to cases in which the dynamics of separate areas of inquiry or activity can, despite their separateness, affiliate and act as if they are communicating (even if they understand the “same” term differently).  Ironically, this may be a form of border maintenance.

Prepared for the Handbook of Ecological Concepts workshop, 6-7 April 2006