Cheers to Science: Complexity and the social

Is society like an anthill?

29jun2017 20:00 - 21:00


Traditional static views of society, based on the old analogue of viewing society as a machine, seem hard to maintain in the era of Twitter and Facebook. Social media emphasize the dynamical and interactive aspects of the social world. The machine analogue is increasingly being replaced by a new image of society: as an anthill, or a flock of birds. This evening, Petter Törnberg will explain this ‘complexity revolution’ to us.

This image emphasizes concepts such as self-organization, non-linearity and agency. It seems, in many ways, to be the opposite of the old machine analogue. The impact of this complexity science can be identified throughout the social sciences, both among postmodernists and positivists. Complexity brings with it many new tools to the study of society: sophisticated mathematical and computational methods developed in physics and computer science, things like dynamical systems theory, complex network analysis, and agent-based modeling.

In this talk, we look closer on the ‘complexity revolution’ and lift these claims to critical study. Does this new analogue truly capture the nature of society, or is it just another case of disciplinary imperialism, focused on bringing society into the realm of the natural sciences? What does complexity bring into focus, and what does it leave out?

Petter Törnberg

About the speaker

Petter Törnberg is a postdoc researcher in Political Sociology at the University of Amsterdam. His background is computer science and physics with a focus on Complex Adaptive Systems, and his research focuses on the boundary between the natural and social world. He is currently studying social conflict through the lens of digital data.

Proost op de Wetenschap

The SPUI25-series 'Proost op de wetenschap' (Cheers to Science) gives PhD candidates and recently promoted researchers a platform to present their research to a broad audience. During this afternoon at SPUI25 a young researcher tells us about his or her recent research. 

The lectures start at 17:00 and will take about half an hour, after which there will be plenty of time to ask questions. To conclude we will celebrate the researcher of the week, science and the start of the weekend by having a drink at SPUI25. 

This lecture will be the finale of our season and therefore will be held in the evening. We will not only celebrate the weekend but also the start of summer. 


You can sign up for this program for free. If you sign up for the program we count on your presence. If you are unable to attend, please let us know via | T: +31 (0)20 525 8142.