Orders and Borders

This past weekend I had the good fortune to be able to attend the Second Conference on Emergent Order and Society held in Portsmouth, NH. The term “conference” doesn’t really characterise the format – it is more akin to a colloquium where the emphasis is on genuine discussion and conversation in an intimate group (18 in all) comprised of thinkers from around the world, from different disciplines with very different perspectives – all loosely bound by an interest in and appreciation of spontaneous orders. This must rate as the most memorable intellectual encounter I’ve ever experienced. And beyond the sessions, the conviviality was superb.

The papers will appear in a newly founded online journal over the course of the next few months. The call for papers ran as follows:

We seek original work in four basic areas:

1. Exploring the relations between emergent (spontaneous) orders and the instrumental organizations within them. For example, the relationship of corporations to the market, political parties to democracies, or schools of thought to science. To what degree are they benign, mutually beneficial, or conflicting?

2. Exploring issues involving the intersection and overlapping of different emergent order processes. For example, how do science and the market influence one another? How do science and democracy influence one another? To what extent can these influences be regarded as beneficial, neutral, or disruptive?

3. Exploring organizations that straddle the borders of different emergent orders. For example, the mass media must be both economically viable by serving consumers and also able to inform citizens in a democracy. A fishery must be economically viable and maintain its ecological sustainability. Different emergent processes are coordinated by different rules biased towards different values. How do they interact?

4. Exploring issues involving the borders of disciplines studying emergent phenomena. The distinction between emergent orders and instrumental organizations arose independently of disciplinary boundaries and a theoretical approach making use of it cuts across traditional disciplinary boundaries. Thus much work in economics, anthropology, ecology, philosophy and sociology of science, and political science independently discovers and explores similar territory without benefiting from similar work elsewhere. How might we develop a paradigm of study that integrates these boundaries?