, Volume 195, Issue 1, pp 55–78 | Cite as

Network representation and complex systems

  • Charles RathkopfEmail author


In this article, network science is discussed from a methodological perspective, and two central theses are defended. The first is that network science exploits the very properties that make a system complex. Rather than using idealization techniques to strip those properties away, as is standard practice in other areas of science, network science brings them to the fore, and uses them to furnish new forms of explanation. The second thesis is that network representations are particularly helpful in explaining the properties of non-decomposable systems. Where part-whole decomposition is not possible, network science provides a much-needed alternative method of compressing information about the behavior of complex systems, and does so without succumbing to problems associated with combinatorial explosion. The article concludes with a comparison between the uses of network representation analyzed in the main discussion, and an entirely distinct use of network representation that has recently been discussed in connection with mechanistic modeling.


Network Representation Explanation Mechanism Decomposition Idealization 



This study was funded by the National Science Foundation (award number 1430601). The author would like to thank Dr. Paul Humphreys for providing extensive comments on multiple drafts of this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Graduate Center at the City University of New YorkPrincetonUSA

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