TAICON: The Trans-Atlantic Initiative on Complex Organizations and Networks



TAICON is a trans-Atlantic community active in the areas of social networks and complexity, based at Harvard and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich (ETH). These research areas have gained in prominence in recent years, thanks to the realization that interconnectedness and complexity are inescapable features of social phenomena. Moreover, their significance has been amplified by processes of globalization, which have accelerated the decline of boundaries and facilitated an exponential increase in the rate and volume of trans-national communication.

These themes have been developed by both social scientists and natural scientists. Social scientists, for example, study the role that networks and “social capital” play in the success of organizations. Physicists have developed tools to study the emergence of dynamic connections in large systems (such as the World Wide Web). However, the agendas of these research communities have not been integrated. Given that both of these communities are concerned with processes of interconnectedness, this failure to communicate across the topical divide is particularly ironic. This is unfortunate, because there is great potential for intellectual synergies from scholarly exchange between complexity theorists and network specialists.

TAICON provides a forum to facilitate such integration by leveraging the complementarities of Harvard and ETH. Our collaboration aims to bring together the strengths of both institutions while narrowing the communication gap between the natural and social sciences. We also strive to bridge the geographic chasm between these research communities in the US and Europe. Although these communities are highly active on both sides of the Atlantic, to date they have remained relatively isolated from one another.

TAICON grew out of the Cambridge Colloquium on Complexity and Social Networks, which was founded by Cederman and Lazer.

Our initiative offers a range of activities designed to bring together scholars and interested practitioners:

  • Teleconferenced colloquia: Each semester we invite a prominent scholar to present his or her research. These presentations are teleconferenced, with SHARE as the terminal point in Cambridge, and ETH in Zurich. For each paper that is presented, we invite a discussant on the other side of the Atlantic to comment on the presentation. Each semester we alternate the location of the primary speaker. During the academic year 2004/05, Professor Duncan Watts of Columbia University is scheduled to speak at ETH on January 12, 2005. Professor John Holland of the University of Michigan will present at Harvard University on April 13, 2005.
  • Other presentations: There will also be conventional lectures at both Harvard and ETH where the speaker is flown in from the other side of the Atlantic. These events will be video-streamed and published on our web page. Professor Frank Schweitzer (ETH) has agreed to speak on June 6, 2005 (Location TBA).
  • Symposia: We will organize a series of workshops organized around particular substantive themes. These workshops will bring scholars working at the intersection of complexity and social networks together twice—once at ETH and once at Harvard—and will culminate in a joint publication. In particular, we are planning two sets of symposia over the coming two years: (1) Modeling the complexity of civil wars, and (2) Technology, knowledge sharing, and social networks.