Sunday, 3 November 2013

Resilient and Antifragile Essences in Actor-Network Theory

Actor-Network Theory (ANT) is a complex social theory based on social constructivism and the central idea that essences (viz., individuals and societies) are to be interpreted not as “containers” characterized by a physical dimension, e.g., a surface or a sphere, but rather as networks of nodes that have as many dimensions as they have “ties” (i.e., connections). Such ties are “weak by themselves”, though they achieve robustness (“material resistance”) through their social nature: “Each tie, no matter how strong, is itself woven out of still weaker threads [..] Strength does not come from concentration, purity and unity, but from dissemination, heterogeneity and the careful plaiting of weak ties” [Latour, 1996]. “Strength” here refers to the ability of the “essences” to retain their identity in spite of environmental conditions affecting their ties and nodes. A fragile essence is one characterized by one or more points-of-diffusion-failures — as it is the case for instance in centralized and hierarchical organizations; conversely, an essence is robust (resilient) if it tolerates discontinuities and other information diffusion failures. Be it an individual or a society, an ANT essence is not a static, immutable entity: It “starts from irreducible, incommensurable, unconnected localities, which[..] sometimes end [up] into provisionally commensurable connections” [Latour, 1996]. Strength is sought by conserving identity despite the changes of scale that are necessary to counterbalance turbulent environmental conditions. The above mentioned “careful plaiting of weak ties” is meant to guarantee that a network “is the same” (cf. definition of resilience), though “stronger” (which leads to Taleb's Antifragility). In this paper I conjectured that a geometrical interpretation to the ANT concept of strength may be given by the structured addition of complexity that naturally emerges in Fractal Social Organizations.