Complex Systems: The Latest Human Artefact

  • Nicola LabancaEmail author
Part of the Green Energy and Technology book series (GREEN)


Complex systems are presented in this chapter as an emergent social and historical phenomenon related to the making and the using of artefacts. Rather than as the result of scientific discoveries, these systems are mainly seen as the product of a social construction which has affected any department of knowledge and human activity. The proposed account revolves around the idea that the intensive scientific and technical reflections that have taken place in specific historical periods in relation to specific human artefacts have transformed the concepts associated with the creation of these artefacts into central ideas and metaphors around which societies have started being organized while leading to their massive technological reproduction. By building on an historical enquiry on instrumentality developed by a series of acknowledged scholars, this chapter discusses how the nature of human artefacts has changed starting from the twelfth century. In particular, it shows how these artefacts have been mainly seen during subsequent historical phases as organa, instruments, motors and, more recently, as complex systems. In addition, it illustrates how these transformations have been accompanied by as many radical changes in the social imaginary concerning the meaning of human action and in the way in which delegation to machines and agency (i.e. the power to generate a change) has been conceived. The chapter also illustrates how the ongoing transition to renewable energies can reinforce the social construction of complex systems and represents an introduction to the second chapter where the implications of this construction for the energy sustainability of this transition are discussed by the author.


Social Construction Material Object Twelfth Century Material Thing Human Intentionality 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Akatz, D., and H. Pagels. 1982. Origin of the universe as a quantum tunnelling event. Physical Review D 25: 2065.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bateson, G. 1972. Steps to an Ecology of Mind. Chicago: The University Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  3. Bateson, G. 1979. Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity (Advances in Systems Theory, Complexity and the Human Sciences). New York: Hampton Press. ISBN 978-0-553-34581-0.Google Scholar
  4. Bauman, Z. 1998. Globalization: The Human Consequences. Cambridge: Polity Press in association with Blackwell Publishers Ltd.Google Scholar
  5. Blumenberg, H. 1988. Work on Myth. Cambridge: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  6. Caneva, K.L. 1993. Robert Mayer and the Conservation of Energy, 310. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Cayley, D. 2005. The Rivers North to the Future: The Testament of Ivan Illich as Told to David Cayley. Toronto: House of Anansi Press Inc.Google Scholar
  8. Foucalt, M. 1966. The Order of Things. Abingdon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  9. Georgescu-Roegen, N. 1971. The Entropy Law and the Economic Process. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gronemeyer, M. 2012. Wer arbeitet, sündigt: Ein Plädoyer für gute Arbeit. Darmstadt: Primus Verlag.      Google Scholar
  11. Illich, I. 1981. Shadow Work. Marion Boyars Inc., 75–95.Google Scholar
  12. Illich, I. 1983. The Social Construction of Energy. Published in New Geographies 02: Landscape of Energy (2009). Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Latour, B. 1993. We Have Never Been Modern. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Mirowski, P. 1989. More Heat than Light. Economics as Social Physics, Physics as Nature’s Economics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Mitcham, C. 1994. Thinking Through Technology: The Path Between Engineering and Philosophy, 256. Chicago: University Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  16. Perulli, A. 1996. Il Tempo da Oggetto a Risorsa. Franco Angeli Editore.Google Scholar
  17. Poerksen, U. 1995. Plastic Words—The Tyranny of a Modular Language. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Rabinbach, A. 1992. The Human Motor: Energy, Fatigue, and the Origins of Modernity. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  19. Teuscher, C. 2004. Alan Turing: Life and Legacy of a Great Thinker, 216. Berlin: Springer.Google Scholar
  20. Tryon, E. 1973. Is the universe a vacuum fluctuation? Nature 246: 396–397.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Watzlawick, P., J.B. Bevelas, and D.D. Jackson. 2014. Pragmatics of Human Communication. A Study of Interactional Patterns, Pathologies, Paradoxes. New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.European Commission, Directorate-General Joint Research CentreUnit C.02 Energy Efficiency and RenewablesIspraItaly

Personalised recommendations