10 Social Systems

This section is a summary guide to social systems terms used in other articles. For more rigorous definitions, or for alternative views on the use of each term, please consult works in the bibliography or other sources. The definitions offered here are for the convenience of readers encountering this body of theory for the first time.

Agent – a collection of properties and strategies. Agents have locations. Agents interact with other agents and artifacts. (Axelrod & Cohen, 1999)

Artifact – an object or resource with a definite location. (Axelrod & Cohen, 1999)

Complex – loosely coupled system with many parts, interacting in non-linear ways. (McChrystal, Collins, Silverman, & Fussell, 2015)

Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS) – a framework for analyzing natural, social, and information systems. Also allows for analysis of cross-domain systems including nature, society, and information in interaction with each other. (Axelrod & Cohen, 1999)

Complicated – many parts, tightly coupled. Deterministic relationships. (McChrystal, Collins, Silverman, & Fussell, 2015)

Copying – strategy used to select successful agent or strategy types. (Axelrod & Cohen, 1999)

Interaction pattern – recurring regularities. (Axelrod & Cohen, 1999)

Population – a collection of agents or strategies. (Axelrod & Cohen, 1999)

Recombination – strategy used to create new agent or strategy types. Selects specific elements from prior types and creates a new type. (Axelrod & Cohen, 1999)

Selection – process leading to the increase or decrease of types of agents or strategies. (Axelrod & Cohen, 1999)

Space (conceptual) – allows for interaction of “nearby” agents. (Example, “friends” on social media). (Axelrod & Cohen, 1999)

Space (physical) – location of agents and artifacts. Allows for interaction of “nearby” agents. (Axelrod & Cohen, 1999)

Strategy – purposeful behavior to achieve a goal. (Axelrod & Cohen, 1999)

Structure – in social theory, an interaction pattern based on history. CAS and related theories do not reify structures as independent agents in their own right. Rather, structure is a product of agent interaction and hence, adaptable. (Byrne & Callahan, 2023).

Success criterion – performance measures or scores used to attribute success or failure to agents or strategies. (Axelrod & Cohen, 1999)

System – one or more populations with artifacts. (Axelrod & Cohen, 1999)

Type – agents or strategies with properties in common. (Axelrod & Cohen, 1999)

Variety – diversity of types. (Axelrod & Cohen, 1999)


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