Queering Complex Systems Science

Complex systems science began as a critique of reductionist science, but following numerous attempts to develop an overarching universalist alternative to reductionism, largely was balkanized amongst traditional scientific disciplines and effectively co-opted by reductionism. Here I queer complex systems science by recasting it as a critique of both reductionism and universality. I employ a methodology in which quantitative concepts such as dynamics, nonlinearity, time scale, system boundaries, self-organization and scale separation are adapted for parallel use as qualitative concepts, in a way that troubles both reductionist and universalist approaches to science. In this framework, faster time scale ways of describing a system correspond to reductionism, where most interactions are linear (and therefore an assemblage can be viewed as the linear sum of its parts), system boundaries shrink and statistical analyses are justifiable approximations. These assumptions break down even at fast scales where the 'atoms' of the analysis are heterogeneous in a path-dependent fashion, a common problem above quantum scales except for systems that specifically have evolved to make the 'atoms' homogeneous, such as capitalist economies. Universality corresponds to slower-scale ways of describing a system because the number of degrees of freedom is small at these scales, and the range of possible/plausible structures in state space becomes limited. Intermediate scales, where heterogeneity dominates across a multidimensional rich, nonlinear state space, are rooted in particular places and generally are the focus of indigenous research and storytelling. I operationalize this methodology with a series of steps in which qualitative texts are translated into quantitative statements about dynamics, and ultimately into computer code. Examples considered include commentary on the so-called Arab Spring and discussions of more recent popular movements in Sudan and Algeria.