A big thank you goes to Sumana Harihareswara for, among other things, giving her okay to be named here and reviewing the blog post thoroughly before it was published.
Now, this question is obviously too broad and general to answer, and I wanted to know whether other Recursers had good resources and/or insights into the nature of societal dynamics and what forms they take on. The discussion was fun, generally productive, and completely off-topic—I posted it in a stream called “small question”, because no other general question-asking channel exists, although it completely mischaracterizes the nature of the question.
Anyway, I was sent down a whole lot of rabbit holes through this discussion, out of which I emerged only about a week ago—almost exactly a month after I had asked the question. On the way, I learned about the works—and existence—of Niklas Luhmann, was sent to Slate Star Codex a number of times, heard about the Red Queen’s race as an illustration for economic dynamics, and a whole lot of other things.
Most notably, I was sent on a journey of reading and thinking by Sumana Harihareswara, who correctly noted that maybe I should stop pretending I could ignore the social sciences, to which the question belongs. Her exact words were: “You might want to consider reading these pieces on various kinds of system dynamics”.
I want to talk a bit about the suggestions she made, blatantly quoting a reading list she kindly gave me, verbatim.
Before going through the list I want to say that I’ve not finished any of the books yet—life got in the way, and I was already reading a couple of other books I wanted to complete first—, but have read all of the articles, and you should too. Or rather, you might want to consider reading these pieces on various kinds of system dynamics.
Let’s start with the articles:
- Public broadcasting: Its past and its future is a long essay/whitepaper by Sue Gardner that examines the evolution of public broadcasting—mostly the BBC—and how the world changed around it, and it was in turn changed by the world, and how it’s maybe time to rethink public broadcasting, and stop defunding it. It’s a lovely, insightful, well-researched piece.
- China Makes, The World Takes by James Fallows takes a long and hard look into China’s manufacturing. It’s from 2007, and I wish there was something comparable that was a little more up-to-date—if you know of such a piece, please tell me! Nevertheless, it changed my view of how manufacturing in China works—a view that is not particularly informed, and doesn’t pretend to be—, and the article is worth reading for that alone.
- Julian Assange and the Computer Conspiracy; “To destroy this invisible government” is a long meditation by Aaron Bady on Julian Assange and his views on regimes, authoritarianism, and how to oppose it. He praises Julian Assange, and that probably won’t jive well with everyone—I’m not really a fan myself, and neither is Sumana—, but he probably has some interesting insights into resistance against regimes that are worth talking about, so this article does just that.
- Open Source Archetypes: A Framework For Purposeful Open Source is a paper commissioned by Mozilla and written by Open Tech Strategies. It gives an overview of different Open Source governance models and the tradeoffs one has to make when deciding on a governance model for a project. It was immediately valuable to me not only intellectually, but also practically—it helped me figure out and articulate what kind of governance models I prefer to have in the spaces I contribute to.
And then there are the books I haven’t read, so I won’t tell you what they are about in my own words, and instead just quote Sumana:
- Democracy for Realists by Christopher H. Achen and Larry M. Bartels is “a survey of the political science literature that aims to figure out what is actually going on in peoples’ heads when they vote”—this is me quoting Sumana quoting her spouse who recommended it (and even named it his book of the year 2017).
- The Greatest Benefit to Mankind: A Medical History of Humanity by Roy Porter “includes interesting changes in the quality of medical care over time”.
- What’s Yours is Mine by Tom Slee “on AirBnB, Uber, Lyft, Taskrabbit, open source software, and related economics”.
- Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music by Greg Milner, where Sumana particularly recommends that I read the section on the ‘loudness war’.
- “Doing Interview-based Qualitative Research: A Learner’s Guide” by Eva Magnusson and Jeanne Marecek and
- “Shane, The Lone Ethnographer: A Beginner’s Guide to Ethnography” by Sally Campbell Galman were both recommended by a friend of Sumana’s if I want to be a bit more rigorous than not rigorous at all with my research methods in social sciences.
In other words, I have a new stack of books next to my bed.
All of the things I linked above—the ones I’ve read, anyway—are worth a read, no matter whether you are interested in the original question or not. If you have more articles or books like these up your sleeves, feel free to pass them along!
Thank you, Sumana.