Systems Thinking in Anthropology: Understanding Cultural Complexity in the Era of Super-diversity

A special issue of Humans (ISSN 2673-9461).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 31 May 2024 | Viewed by 9674

Special Issue Editors


E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Anthropology Department, University of Montreal, Montreal, QC H3C 3J7, Canada
Interests: intercultural communication; intercultural dynamiques in cities; public policy; systems theory; hermeneutics; collaborative ethnography; popular culture; popular music; DR Congo; Québec

E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Laboratory for Research on Intercultural Relations, Université du Québec à Montréal, Montreal, QC H3C 3P8, Canada
Interests: systems thinking; critical hermeneutic; popular culture in North-America; feminist studies; music; cultural studies; communication; constructivism; epistemology

E-Mail Website
Guest Editor Assistant
Anthropology Department, University of Montreal, Montreal, QC H3C 3J7, Canada
Interests: intercultural dialogue; systemic approach; pluralism; anti-racism; migration journey; mistrust

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

The objective of this Special Issue is to highlight the efforts made by anthropologists and other social scientists to integrate the theoretical framework and methods of systems thinking into their research. Systems thinking is considered here as a modeling methodology that facilitates the understanding of complex cultural phenomena, such as the dynamics of social relations in a cross-cultural context. Among the various lines of research in this area, this Special Issue focuses more specifically on the various phenomena that are encapsulated by the concept of super-diversity, introduced initially by Vertovec in the context of his work on the evolution of migration patterns. 

By highlighting how "social, cultural, religious, and linguistic phenomena [...] combine with others like gender, age and legal status" to bring about a "diversification of diversity" in societies, Vertovec (2022) is able to refocus the scientific project of anthropology in the sphere of a central problematic well known to the followers of systems thinking, that of "change of change", which was explored by the anthropologist Gregory Bateson in the context of a general theory of communication, aimed at explaining the movements of adaptation or mutation of the "mind" of human societies (1972).

 From this perspective, a system is conceived as a theoretical object designed to support and guide the modeling of “wicked problems”, such as the increasing complexity of intercultural relations in contemporary urban settings. A "cultural system", such as the one Bateson might have called the "mind" of a city, is, in this sense, an artificial model endowed with fundamental generic properties that are assigned to it by a hypothesis to qualify its structure, functioning and processes (White and Genest 2020). To maintain this tripartite division systemic modeling, we will give priority to those proposals that put forward the study of such a “cultural system” by examining the interconnections necessary for the maintenance of its organization (structure); the operative modalities of its internal intelligence (functioning); or its dispositions to change, both static and schismatic (process).

For this Special Issue, we are particularly interested in texts that make it possible to see how systemic approaches facilitate the understanding of social dynamics in increasingly diverse urban environments. We are also interested in texts that make use of concepts that are specific to systems thinking or which will have recourse to the anthropological theories of learning, double-bind, information, or communication rooted in the work of Bateson.

Prof. Dr. Bob W. White
Prof. Dr. Sylvie Genest
Guest Editors

Maude Arsenault
Guest Editor Assistant

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All submissions that pass pre-check are peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Humans is an international peer-reviewed open access quarterly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1000 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • systems thinking
  • cultural complexity
  • super-diversity
  • cross-cultural context

Published Papers (6 papers)

Order results
Result details
Select all
Export citation of selected articles as:

Research

Jump to: Other

16 pages, 301 KiB  
Article
Talking about Difference: Cross-Cultural Comparison and Prejudice in Anthropology and Beyond
by Bob W. White, Mathilde Gouin-Bonenfant and Anthony Grégoire
Humans 2023, 3(4), 283-298; https://doi.org/10.3390/humans3040022 - 21 Nov 2023
Viewed by 1849
Abstract
In recent years, the question of “difference” has become a central feature of public debate and social concern, especially in the context of transnational migration. The underlying question that we attempt to answer in this article is: how can we talk about difference [...] Read more.
In recent years, the question of “difference” has become a central feature of public debate and social concern, especially in the context of transnational migration. The underlying question that we attempt to answer in this article is: how can we talk about difference without reinforcing prejudice? Starting from the observation that perceptions and representations of difference have an impact on the way that individuals and groups interact with each other in increasingly diverse urban environments, we argue that a systemic approach to the analysis of intercultural situations gives us a unique window into emerging discourses and evolving norms about difference. After a brief historical overview of debates surrounding cross-cultural comparison in anthropology, we consider how various fields outside of anthropology have drawn inspiration from anthropology in order to gain a deeper understanding of intercultural dynamics in various professional settings. This article also examines several anthropological concepts that have been used as tools to theorize cross-cultural comparison, and how participants in a new research methodology use the systemic notion of “cultural variables” to resolve the basic paradox underlying pluralist philosophy and practice. Full article
20 pages, 592 KiB  
Article
Ethnologist as Foreign Body: A Systemic Explanation
by Maude Arsenault
Humans 2023, 3(3), 219-238; https://doi.org/10.3390/humans3030018 - 18 Sep 2023
Viewed by 931
Abstract
During an ethnographic experience, which took place in a rehabilitation clinic, I had to deal with situations that required me to make a series of adjustments to my role in the clinic, so as to reduce my involvement with both patients and therapists. [...] Read more.
During an ethnographic experience, which took place in a rehabilitation clinic, I had to deal with situations that required me to make a series of adjustments to my role in the clinic, so as to reduce my involvement with both patients and therapists. Although I expected to feel more at ease as the field progressed, instead, I felt as if my presence were more and more disruptive, and gradually becoming problematic. The systemic approach thus seemed the most relevant for clarifying the complexity of the interactions that were at play, and that shaped my experience, as I had to venture beyond reflexivity. The aim of this methodological article is to shed light on the need for constant adaptation in the ethnologist, in order to maintain their presence in the field, and obtain information to carry out research. In order to do so, a systemic triangulation has been performed based on the Donnadieu and Karsky method, leading to an analysis of some of the difficulties encountered, as highlighted via systemic thinking. Full article
Show Figures

Figure 1

Other

Jump to: Research

23 pages, 6327 KiB  
Essay
“Creative Anthropology” as a Unit for Knowing: Epistemic Object and Experimental System in Research-Creation “in” Clay
by Yanik Potvin
Humans 2024, 4(1), 108-130; https://doi.org/10.3390/humans4010007 - 15 Mar 2024
Viewed by 1692
Abstract
This essay takes advantage of the current context of superdiversity to define a form of hybrid heuristics between North American anthropology and research-creation “in” the arts. In an attempt to alleviate the epistemological disaster described by Gregory Bateson as the loss of the [...] Read more.
This essay takes advantage of the current context of superdiversity to define a form of hybrid heuristics between North American anthropology and research-creation “in” the arts. In an attempt to alleviate the epistemological disaster described by Gregory Bateson as the loss of the unity of the biosphere and humanity, I position myself within a nomothetic perspective of Boasian anthropology and a postqualitative approach to research-creation. My research-creation proposes clay as an epistemic object and develops a creative methodology in the form of an experimental system that borrows from the following two types of change observable in living organisms: static and schismatic changes. The artistic activities, presented as two heuristic cycles, seek to broaden the self-reflexivity inherent in the use of clay by human groups. They provoke decentring leading to a loss of control where a new identity has to be defined. This reveals itself in terms of system thinking as the reconstruction of a new reality that is defined neither entirely by my artistic practice nor entirely by my theoretical framework derived from anthropology. It is a “place of passage” between both. It is a new identity that can be defined by the “change of change” that I call “creative anthropology”. This transdisciplinary approach introduces a “second glance” into anthropological research and opens up breaches through research-creation. It works to develop new narratives and test posthumanism in the field of my artistic practice. Full article
Show Figures

Figure 1

16 pages, 286 KiB  
Essay
System Intertwining and Immigration Action Plans: The Case of a Provincial Funding Program in Quebec (Canada)
by Jorge Frozzini
Humans 2024, 4(1), 50-65; https://doi.org/10.3390/humans4010004 - 31 Jan 2024
Viewed by 808
Abstract
The ability of political power to be deployed on several levels of governance is a key element of public administration, insofar as it enables the various needs of the population to be met. However, conflicts of competence, jurisdiction or vision can arise when [...] Read more.
The ability of political power to be deployed on several levels of governance is a key element of public administration, insofar as it enables the various needs of the population to be met. However, conflicts of competence, jurisdiction or vision can arise when it comes to articulating these different levels of management or intervention, particularly when policies with a broader scope are applied to local situations, thus proving ill suited to the realities experienced on the ground. This essay, with an example in the province of Quebec, illustrates how the provincial and municipal levels of governance—each with differing visions and objectives—are confronted with dilemmas respecting the constraints imposed by their levels of government. Through a systemic point of view, I show how intertwining systemic levels can produce conflicts since each has its own logic. This is explained with the example of a text-based mediated organization conducted by the “Programme d’appui aux collectivités” (PAC). The essay also identifies some challenges faced by civil servants working at two different levels of government as well as the place of the idea of resilience, and proposes recommendations. Full article
21 pages, 362 KiB  
Essay
A Reflection on Paradoxes and Double Binds in the Workplace in the Era of Super-Diversity
by Daniel Côté
Humans 2024, 4(1), 1-21; https://doi.org/10.3390/humans4010001 - 21 Dec 2023
Viewed by 1373
Abstract
Occupational health and safety (OHS) is a largely technical field, still guided by a biomedical model of health that seeks to isolate factors that cause injury. Despite a growing literature on organisational and managerial factors influencing occupational health, their full integration into the [...] Read more.
Occupational health and safety (OHS) is a largely technical field, still guided by a biomedical model of health that seeks to isolate factors that cause injury. Despite a growing literature on organisational and managerial factors influencing occupational health, their full integration into the OHS concept has been slow. A broader understanding is still needed to recognise the restructuring of work and the link between well-being at work and management style. In the context of a rapidly changing world of work, increasing workforce diversity, and inequality, OHS needs to take account of the social sciences and humanities to broaden its reductionist vision. Occupational illnesses, distress, and suffering, especially in relation to relational or organisational issues, have no initial cause or specific ontology; they result from a long-standing process or repetitive relational pattern that needs to be exposed and understood in greater depth, considering contextual factors and dynamics. Using the authors’ anthropological backgrounds and the basic principles of the double bind theory developed many decades ago by Gregory Bateson and his colleagues at the Palo Alto School of Communication, we propose a reflection on pragmatic paradoxes or double bind situations in the workplace (which can be briefly defined as the presence of contradictory or conflicting demands or messages), their potential impact on workers’ health and well-being, and how to resolve them. This paper sought to explore the world of pragmatic paradoxes and double binds by discussing different categories, types, or forms of paradoxes/double binds that occur in the context of occupational health and their underlying mechanisms. It also includes a discussion of the possible link to the concept of super-diversity, as it too is associated with migration channels, employment, gendered flows, and local systems. Finally, we discuss the practical implications of this understanding for health professionals, researchers, and policymakers, from a perspective of promoting more holistic and context-sensitive interactional approaches to occupational health. Full article
20 pages, 324 KiB  
Essay
Systems Theory and Intercultural Communication: Methods for Heuristic Model Design
by Sylvie Genest
Humans 2023, 3(4), 299-318; https://doi.org/10.3390/humans3040023 - 23 Nov 2023
Viewed by 1019
Abstract
This article focuses on methods for designing heuristic models within the paradigm of systems theory and in the disciplinary context of intercultural communication. The main question arises from the striking observation that common language is insufficient to develop knowledge about human communication, especially [...] Read more.
This article focuses on methods for designing heuristic models within the paradigm of systems theory and in the disciplinary context of intercultural communication. The main question arises from the striking observation that common language is insufficient to develop knowledge about human communication, especially when many factors of complexity (such as ambiguity, paradoxes, or uncertainty) are involved in the composition of an abstract research object. This epistemological, theoretical, and methodological problem is one of the main challenges to the scientificity of anthropological theories and concepts on culture. Moreover, these questions lie at the heart of research on intercultural communication. Authors and theorists in the complexity sciences have already stressed the need, in such cases, to think in terms of models or semiotic representations, since these tools of thought can mediate much more effectively than unformalized language between the heterogeneous set of perceptions arising from the field of experience, on the one hand, and the philosophical principles that organize speculative thought, on the other. This sets the scene for a reflection on the need to master the theory of heuristic models when it comes to developing scientific knowledge in the field of intercultural communication. In this essay, my first aim is to make explicit the conditions likely to ensure the heuristic value of a model, while my second aim is to clarify the operational function and required level of abstraction of certain terms, such as heading, concept, category, model, and system that are among the most commonly used by academics in their descriptive accounts or explanatory hypotheses. To achieve this second objective, I propose to create cognitive meta-categories to identify the three (nominal, cardinal, or ordinal) roles of words in the reference grids that we use to classify our ideas and to specify how to use these meta-categories in the construction of our heuristic models. Alongside the theoretical presentation, examples of application are provided, almost all of which are drawn from my own research into the increased cultural vigilance of the majority population in Québec since the reasonable accommodation crisis in this French-speaking province of Canada. The typology I propose will perhaps help to avoid the confusion regularly committed by authors who attribute only cosmetic functions to words that nevertheless have a highly heuristic value and who forget to consider the logical leaps of their theoretical thinking in the construction of heuristic models. Full article
Back to TopTop