Academic journal article Emergence: Complexity and Organization

Human Interaction Dynamics (Hid): Foundations, Definitions, and Directions

Academic journal article Emergence: Complexity and Organization

Human Interaction Dynamics (Hid): Foundations, Definitions, and Directions

Article excerpt

Complexity And Philosophy

This paper proposes an analytical framework for a complexity-informed theoretical approach to human interaction and organizations. In doing so, it addresses the increasing call for better theory supporting the microfoundations of social science. A key premise of the argument is that the primary imperatives of social actors are confronting uncertainty and adapting to change as a collective. As such, in addition to seeking requisite resources, human beings interact to gather and use information for their individual and collective benefit. The paper explores this perspective by proposing a complex systems model of organizing that differs from systems theory by placing the actors inside the system rather than assuming they act on the system. We propose a definition of information that enables us to explore the dynamics of human interaction as observers from the outside without necessarily knowing what the information means. This approach is analogous to how physical and biological systems are studied and is intended to complement, rather than replace existing approaches that tend to place their emphasis on inter-subjectivity and meaning-making rather than on the objective measurement of information as a physically measurable quantity.


Complexity ideas have inspired many new approaches to organization and leadership studies (Allen, Maguire, & McKelvey, 2011). As such, it offers a plausible approach for building theoretical microfoundations for social theory in answer to recent calls in the literature (Devinney, 2013; Greve, 2013; Winter, 2013). Thus far, however, most studies that invoke complexity notions limit their ambitions to conceptual discussions that apply complexity ideas like attractors (Anderson, 1999; Dooley, 1997) or fitness landscapes (Kauffman, 1993; McKelvey, 1997; Levinthal, 1997) metaphorically to human systems. Alternatively, studies of complex adaptive systems (Holland, 1975) have used computer simulations (Carley & Prietula, 1994; Hazy, 2007; Siggelkow & Rivkin, 2005) that understandably simplify human interaction to the level where they can be modeled but in so doing ignore many aspects of interactions that are perhaps the most human.

We argue that this limitation is largely due to the absence of clearly specified physical and social mechanisms that describe the complex causality that would explain the relationships reflected in these models. Absent these advances, social science will have difficulty accumulating scientific knowledge in mathematical models and by doing so taking its place along the continuum of the natural sciences (Wilson, 1998) that are increasingly understood in complexity terms.

The study of human interaction dynamics (HID) aims to make progress toward addressing this gap. To further this objective, this paper posits foundations, assumptions and definitions that might underlie theoretical microfoundations that usefully describe and predict human activity. Such a theory might, for example, support a typology of organizing that would enable researchers and practitioners alike to more clearly recognize and respond to the specific situations they encounter. Such a classification system might form along the lines that Elman Service (1962) proposed in anthropology-that of Bands, Tribes, Chiefdoms and States-but in this case would be based upon how these distinct types make the benefits of the organizing more predictable to observers given the specific parametric context that characterizes the complex adaptive system (Holland, 1975). As populations grow in size or as ecosystems change, for example, distinctly different parametric conditions might imply that only certain organizing forms offer an acceptable level of stability (and thus useful predictability for participating agents).

The other articles in this special issue, taken together, offer the promise that a general theory of human interaction dynamics (HID) may indeed be possible. …

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