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Coding Social Form

October 31, 2012

Ever since Auguste Comte looked for ways to code and assess social data with respect to a crossing of a dynamical and a static, or diachronic and synchronic axis of social order sociological theory is interested in two and only two dimensions of the emergence and reproduction of social phenomena: temporal reproduction and material differentiation to both produce and exploit social tension. Niklas Luhmann confirmed that orientation with respect to Talcott Parsons’ and his own theory program. And Harrison C. White adds the issues of biophysical ecology and bodily engagement.

Culture theory ever since Giambattista Vico and Jean-Jacques Rousseau excels in dealing with negation to pursue positive and thus desired states of the social. Hegel, Freud, Lacan, and Zizek add an understanding of ontologies which include a “less-than-nothing” logic within symbolic orders that thereby gain switches within values from insufficiencies in any one value.

With respect to ideas about semantic webs and about object-oriented programming it is tempting to look for ways to combine sociological theory and culture theory within algorithms that allow people to navigate within ecologies of social order and disorder. Those algorithms would prove the impossibility to solve any one problem of the emergence and reproduction of a social phenomenon without the intervention of some human or otherwise intelligent will which in no way it to be predetermined.

This amounts to sociological theory, culture theory, and computer sciences looking for ways to implement the self-production of indeterminacy within a calculus of social form which calls necessarily for both intervening and perfunctory supplements.

A calculus of this kind has been proposed by George Spencer-Brown in his book Laws of Form (London 1969). An attempt to code social forms would try to embed theorems of sociological theory and culture theory within possibly object-oriented languages to provide people both with an introduction to those theories and with a tool to prove to themselves that there willful action and experience is not to be supplemented.

There are two possibly unsolvable questions to be dealt with. The first one is to model sociological and cultural theorems within a programming language. And the second one is to look for ways of how to access, code, and present the data to prove or disprove those theorems.

If next society is moving from writing, reading, and printing to sampling, visualizing, and navigating, then which data within which metadata will prove useful to give sociological theory a life after modern society?

With respect to programming languages and software development this research and design project proposal comes late, but with respect to data mining and further steps of the development of sociological theory it may come at just the right moment. We need ludic and probably also lucid ways to explore its possibility.

From → Coding, Form, Programming

5 Comments
  1. An implementation of social form is a fascinating idea! I can’t quite visualize yet what such a program would do as it runs, though. In a sense, existing society is one machine on which the implementation already runs, right? (In the same way in which the solar system can be considered a clock.) What would you imagine that the model, once implemented in, say, an object-oriented programming language, would do? What would its output be?

  2. arnd kulow permalink

    There is a slight correspondence to my project. As a lawyer and programmer I am developing, let me call it cautious “software” representing and operating on knowledge structures. In software engineering we have to divide the content modele from interactions and the user interface. My model is formed with the xml w3c standard “rdf”, the interactions are formed in javascript and the ui is html5
    and css. So let me know if you are interested to relate this to your issue. I would be very pleased.

  3. Arnd Kulow permalink

    @Stephan Packard thats an interesting question. In my view an object-orientated programming styles is closer to an ontological thinking. Corresponding Java objects are separated entities with methods to change inner properties. A functional programming approach is tautological. The “variables” are fix. All is focussed on the function. In this way I understand GSB’s : “Draw a distinction!” as a “difference-function”. Does this make sense?

  4. That’s a very interesting perspective to me. Before reading this, I would have gone in exactly the opposite direction: A functional approach, I would have argued, is much like a Cartesian worldview, representing everything (relevant to the program) that there is in a second structure that has variables to contain certain elements, and thus always knows which kind of elements might come up — and which won’t. An object-oriented approach, on the other hand, seems to me to be much more open to accepting individual historical and contingent positivities that define themselves not in terms of pre-established categories, but by their own specific distinctions.

    But I now realise that I might well have been taking GSB too far into the direction of other mindsets, Foucault’s and Luhmann’s most of all, which are only sometimes compatible and which allow for something that is indeed akin to a very mild existentialism, or perhaps more properly realism, in accepting new phenomena as self-contained or at least self-emergent entities rather than fulfilments of pre-ordained possibilities. In traditional terms, they are then not as radically based on difference as the LoF are, although they are by no means classically essentialist.

    But having said all that, OOP and FP both eventually parse into the same machine code. Treating them as philosophically different implies considering them as representations, languages to be judged by their aptness to depict worldviews, rather than as tools to create other tools. That’s why I would first like to able to visualize what such a program would eventually do, what its input and output would be — and then consider which codes might make it less improbable that the visualized program eventually exist.

  5. Arnd Kulow permalink

    @Packard let me support your statement with Baecker:

    “An attempt to code social forms would try to embed theorems of sociological theory and culture theory within possibly object-oriented languages to provide people both with an introduction to those theories and with a tool to prove to themselves that there willful action and experience is not to be supplemented.”

    This could lead to a kind of expert system concerning social theory plus an interactive module. If this should be the outcome, then I agree fully: We would have indeed to describe the data model, the view and the control structures of such a program. From this perspective it is of secondary importance which tools we later employ.

    How could a tool look like which proves to people that they are acting willful? Can there be such a tool? I doubt it.

    As a kind of preparation of the data model employed in such a program it could be senseful to describe the axioms and theorems in a calculus beside the LoF. I am thinking of Lambda Calculus for example. As a process orientated functional calculus, it could be helpful to construct and determine the underlying structure of the first part of the program.

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