Networks and long-term cultural change

We developed the workshop’s theme to bring together and introduce scholars from diverse fields wanting to collaborate on the frontiers of social science and computational modeling. It will consist of three modules that look at recent advances in network science and their applications to historical political economy.

Module 1: “Networks of Scale in Human Development: How Large-Scale Civilizations Are Built”.

Hilton Root, moderator

Most economic models predict that cooperation can only be stabilized in small, long-lasting groups. So how did historical regimes build the capacity to create bonds and communities extending beyond kinship and lineage? How did the cultural and historical assemblages of Europe and China form and survive millennia? How did they become capable of coordinating complex, multi-layered functions of leadership succession, property transfer, and the mobilization of revenue and arms? What features of their network structure made it possible for system-level transformation, and how did the systems themselves evolve with the communities they supported? As we search for the network mechanisms that allow humans to engage in large-scale cooperation, we will also want to know whether network structures can help to explain the different economic trajectories of China vs. Europe.

Module 2: “Networks, Norms, and Cultural Change”

Jonathan Schulz and Erik Kimbrough, moderators

Social norms underpin every society and are essential to resolving conflict, facilitating coordination, and determining the scope of cooperation, trust, and fair-minded dealing. But how do they emerge? How do they change and diffuse, and why do they exhibit variability across societies? In this module we’ll examine kinship and other social network structures as a key determinant for the formation of norms, their cross-societal variations, and how they relate to cultural change or persistence. Network science can illuminate the social patterns, but the crucial work of formalizing the complementarities between networks and norms remains.

Module 3: “Political, Economic, and Social Networks in History”

Jared Rubin, moderator

What role did political, economic, and social (e.g., religious) networks play in history? There has been a surge of research interest around this question. Advances in computing power provide the tools to “exhume” new evidence and apply insights from network theory to the study of historical movements and eras. Greater troves of data are also accessible; as the world’s written information becomes digitized, researchers will be able to reconstruct historical networks without years of archival investigation. These advances offer unprecedented opportunities to explore the mechanisms underlying historical processes and phenomena. They also require a shared platform for scholars familiar with network analytical tools and those who understand historical data and context.

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