Over the past two decades, anthropologist J. Stephen Lansing and geneticist Murray Cox have explored dozens of villages on the islands of the Malay Archipelago, combining ethnographic research with research into genetic and linguistic markers to shed light on how these societies change over time. Islands of Order draws on their pioneering fieldwork to show how the science of complexity can be used to better understand unstable dynamics in culture, language, cooperation, and the emergence of hierarchies.
Complexity science has opened exciting new vistas in physics and biology, but poses challenges for social scientists. What triggers fundamental, discontinuous social change? And what brings stable patterns—islands of order—into existence? Lansing and Cox begin with an incisive and accessible introduction to models of change, from simple random drift to coupled interactions, phase transitions, co-phylogenies, and adaptive landscapes. Then they take readers on a series of journeys to the islands of the Indo-Pacific to demonstrate how social scientists can harness these powerful tools to discover out-of-equilibrium social dynamics. Lansing and Cox address empirical questions surrounding the colonization of the Pacific, the relationship of language to culture, the emergence and disappearance of male and female hierarchies, and more.
Unlocking new possibilities for the social sciences, Islands of Order is accompanied by an interactive companion website that enables readers to explore the models described in the book.