Predicting the Future in Science, Economics, and Politics
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Predicting the Future in Science, Economics, and Politics

Edited by Frank Whelon Wayman, Paul R. Williamson, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Solomon Polachek

It is a puzzle that while academic research has increased in specialization, the important and complex problems facing humans urgently require a synthesis of understanding. This unique collaboration attempts to address such a problem by bringing together a host of prominent scholars from across the sciences to offer new insights into predicting the future. They demonstrate that long-term trends and short-term incentives need to be understood in order to adopt effective policies, or even to comprehend where we currently stand and the sort of future that awaits us.
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Chapter 14: System change and Richardson processes: application of social field theory

Paul R. Williamson


The key idea of this discussion is an analog, drawn from physics: that societal parties may be regarded as located in an abstract geometric space within which they move about over time and influence each other as a function of their movements. (In this chapter I shall use the term “party” as synonymous with terms such as “actor,” “agent,” and “societal unit”; all of which I take to be inclusive of, but more general than, expressions such as “nation,” “state,” and “nation-state.”) This idea – location and movement in a space – was discussed by Wright (1961) and further pursued by Rummel (1965). What I will present here began with their work but has diverged from it. The result is a model into which can be fitted other ideas and work, including the items named in the chapter title. One aspect, the “Richardson process,” to be identified below and which is the focus of this chapter, is presented in an informal and, it is hoped, intuitive way. The other elements named in the chapter title are summarized in terms of their relationship to the R-process. (For brevity I will write “R-process” to refer to a Richardson process. Additional discussion is found in the revision of a conference paper and in a mathematical discussion and several figures; Williamson 2008b [2005].)

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