Summer readings, cultural revolutions, destructive designs

My interest in the topic of the Chinese Cultural Revolution was jump-started by Tsinghua sociologist Guo Yuhua. In the summer of 2008, in the aftermath of a month-long fieldwork conducted in Beijing and Shanghai, I came back to Paris to attend the conference La Chine et l’internationalisation de la sociologie. There, Guo Yuhua delivered a presentation about political rituals in rural China, emphasizing the role of “movements” as being instrumental in creating a certain form of emerging governance in remote provinces. By movements, Chinese authorities traditionally mean loosely-designed public campaigns promoting ever-changing (and often contradictory) policies: movements to “save the country through physical fitness”, movements to “chase away sparrows”, movements to “voice dissent”, movements to “repress dissent”, movements to “kill and bury stray dogs”, and so on. Something like western democracies national plans, but less clear as to scope, budget and timing, and more bottom-up and arbitrary in their application: “is one hour of exercise per day sufficient to stay healthy?”; “on what exactly should I voice my dissent?”; “how many dogs do we have to kill, overall?” All these questions are not answered by Chinese  policymakers. Rather, the answer is supposed to emerge consensually, after a period of collective negotiation sometimes leading to tensions, struggle and social criticism.

The idea that popped in more than one head that day, while listening to Guo Yuhua, was that maybe the long series of disruptive political events that we conventionally call the “Cultural Revolution” should not be regarded as a coherent political masterplan, but as the random combination of some of those campaigns – starting with the “Destruction of the Four Olds” in 1966, peaking with the “Down to the Countryside movement” in the early 1970s, and fading away after the “Criticize Lin Piao, Criticize Confucius” movement in the mid-1970s.


Symposium on complex systems modelling and complexity thinking

Symposium sur la modélisation de systèmes complexes et la pensée complexe
Organisé par le Centre Edgar Morin, EHESS-CNRS, Paris, en collaboration avec University College London, UK
Lundi 15 juin 2009 à la Maison Suger
16-18 rue Suger
75005 Paris

Le Symposium de l’Université des Nations Unies (UNU) « Science and Praxis of Complexity » qui eut lieu à Montpellier (France) en 1984 réunissait des personnalités renommées comme Prigogine, Boulding, Pribram, Luhmann, Morin, Le Moigne ou Atlan, parmi d’autres. Ce fut la première manifestation internationale sur la science de la complexité. Il s’agissait d’explorer les conséquences épistémiques de concepts tels que non linéarité, auto-organisation et émergence, dans des systèmes composés de nombreuses parties en interaction.

Cet événement coïncida, la même année, avec la création du Santa Fe Institute, aux Etats-Unis, qui se donnait pour l’essentiel les mêmes thèmes : interdisciplinarité, complexité, émergence. Ce fut le premier centre interdisciplinaire exclusivement voué à l’étude des systèmes complexes.

Le Symposium sur la Modélisation de Systèmes Complexes et la Pensée Complexe de 2009 surgit d’un échange scientifique en cours entre le Centre Edgar Morin, EHESS, Paris, représenté par son directeur, Claude Fischler, et des chercheurs en complexité de l’University College de Londres, représentés par Sylvia B. Nagl (directrice du Cancer Systems Science Group au Cancer Institute) et Robert Biel (membre du Development Planning Unit). (more…)