Architecture and Collective Behaviour

Just published: a special Issue of Philosophical Transactions B (The Royal Society) on ‘Interdisciplinary approaches for uncovering the impacts of architecture on collective behaviour’. My own contribution is ‘open access’ and you can read it and print it from the web site here. The issue covers many aspects of collective behaviours at different architectural and spatial scales dealing with different social and physical systems. The commonality of diverse approaches to very different systems is well demonstrated by this issue. All the papers can be seen in terms of contents here.

The editors say:

“Built structures, such as animal nests or buildings that humans occupy, influence where and how individuals interact. These interactions lead to cooperation, collaboration, and collective behaviours, which are fundamental for the formation of functional human and animal societies. Despite the obvious influence of space on interactions, because spatial proximity is necessary for an interaction to occur, spatial constraints are rarely considered in studies of collective behaviour or collective cognition.

This special issue highlights ways in which structures impact society, for example through the impact of the built environment on information flow, disease transmission and health behaviours. In addition, the issue brings new research on how architecture affects collective behaviours of humans and animals. For example, humans have fewer face-to-face interactions than expected in open spaces and ground squirrels interact differently in open and closed spaces. This special issue creates a unique exchange of ideas among a wide range of disciplines including behavioural ecologists, evolutionary biologists, cognitive scientists, social scientists, architects, physicists, and engineers. The goal of this issue is to formalise and catalyse an interdisciplinary exchange that will propel the study of architecture and collective behaviour.”

Non-Equilibrium Social Science and Policy

NESS

This great book edited by Jeffrey Johnson, Paul Ormerod, Bridget Rosewell, Andrzej Nowak, and Yi-Cheng Zhang brings together many contributions from an EU project which lead to several workshops and conferences about a new form of social science – out of equilibrium, far from equilibrium, in disequilibrium as the world always is. The book is open access and you can download it here.

Here is an explanation of what is contained within. Between 2011 and 2014 the European Non-Equilibrium Social Science Project (NESS) investigated the place of equilibrium in the social sciences and policy. Orthodox economics is based on an equilibrium view of how the economy functions and does not offer a complete description of how the world operates. However, mainstream economics is not an empty box. Its fundamental insight, that people respond to incentives, may be the only universal law of behaviour in the social sciences. Only economics has used equilibrium as a primary driver of system behaviour, but economics has become much more empirical at the microlevel over the past two decades. This is due to two factors: advances in statistical theory enabling better estimates of policy consequences at the microlevel, and the rise of behavioural economics which looks at how people, firms and governments really do behave in practice. In this context, this chapter briefly reviews the contributions of this book across the social sciences and ends with a discussion of the research themes that act as a roadmap for further research. These include: realistic models of agent behaviour; multilevel systems; policy informatics; narratives and decision making under uncertainty; and validation of agent-based complex systems models.

Here is my own chapter for your interest which is entitled Cities in Disequilibrium

 

Theoretical Filters

spam-filters-work

Science celebrates the goal of parsimony. Occam’s razor and all that. Indeed I wrote an editorial about this a few years ago in 2010 (click here). The idea rests on assumptions that our best theories are those that strip away that which is superfluous to our purpose and generates ideas that are as “… simple as possible but not too simple” as Einstein reportedly said. The trouble with cities and their planning is that we have a surfeit of theories and many seem plausible. One way of proceeding is to define their essence and in this editorial, I focus on how we might do this in many different ways. One way is to take out of any theory that which is obvious, that which is geometrically or physically determined prior to the events involved and James S. Coleman in 1964 called this The Method of Residues in his seminal text Introduction to Mathematical Sociology (New York: Free Press of Glencoe). In essence, he suggested that it is in the ‘residues’ – the residuals – where we will find enlightenment and only when the obvious has been removed will we be in a position to explore the non-obvious.  One way of progressing theory is to produce synthetic data, to look at idealised situations, and search for enlightenment in these. Virtual realities help in this but so do speculations about future cities. There are many suggestions and in this editorial, we suggest how these theoretical filters can enable us to get the best out of theory and to test what is best theory. Read on. You can also retrieve the editorial by clicking on the above image.