GSDP was coordinated by


Social energy

The idea of social energy arose in discussions at various GSDP related meetings. It is an analogy that suggests to describe social systems using some mathematics applied when speaking about energy in a physics context.

One example is a so-called potential function, used to describe the behaviour of a dynamical system. One can imagine the system’s state as a particle that moves around in the “potential landscape” driven by the force of gravity and some random perturbation. The potential function provides the form of the landscape, and gravity tends to pull the particle towards the lowest places within the landscape. However, due to the perturbation the particle may also move upwards, and can thus transit from the basin of attraction of one local minimum to another one. This behaviour seems useful for describing economic systems that often stay close to one “equilibrium” for a long time but may also experience major shifts, which could be interpreted as transitions to different equilibria. By analogy, the landscape given by the potential function could be seen as a “social energy landscape”.

What exactly this social energy landscape, or the term “social energy” itself, represents, and how it can be described mathematically in more detail, are open questions. Also, it is yet to be found out how far this analogy carries and what can be learnt from investigating it.

Since quite a few people involved in previous discussions are part of the GSDP network, I propose to continue discussing this topic here. Of course, others are kindly invited to participate in the discussion as well.

Apart from the discussion of concepts and possible models as regards content, this webspace might also be a convenient place to exchange ideas on the possibility to organise workshops or other meetings, submit texts, or grasp other logistic opportunities to further develop research on the topic.


14.06.2011 18:24

3 replies

Sarah Wolf


Re: Social energy

In her interesting post (to which David has added a useful comment) Sarah refers to various GSDP-related discussions. As far as I am concerned, they started at the conference "Action for Climate – Beyond the Zero Sum Game" in Barcelona, April 2010. As I need a figure and a couple of formulas to answer Sarah's post, I have uploaded a pdf ( Enjoy!


14.06.2011 18:26

3 replies

Carlo C. Jaeger

Re: Re: Social energy

Thanks, Carlo, for the inspiring text and the proposed model sketch, that has lead to some further discussion here in Potsdam. I hope to reply more closely to that some other time, right now I would like to put up for discussion a further text, written as a basis for a workshop proposal.

At this early stage of development of the social energy concept, it seems a fruitful idea to hold a workshop - exploratory in nature - aiming at further developing the concept. Two types of contributions are desirable: a) conceptual works about social energy, that further develop the analogy, for example by "translating" physics concepts into a social setting, and b) models or modelling approaches that can be examples in the social energy frame.
In particular, the workshop should help investigate how far the social energy analogy carries and what can be learnt from exploring it.

There is an open call for Satellite Meetings at the European Conference on Complex Systems, ECCS'11 in Vienna, next September. A satellite workshop on social energy could be of interest to conference participants as it ties in well with some issues of the conference: It provides an interdisciplinarity approach to complexity in social and economic systems.

The text uploaded under details some futher aspects of what the social energy concept is aimed at: in short, to set a frame in which models that facilitate thinking about social-ecological systems and understanding their behaviour. I kindly invite comments to the text, which I intend to include into a proposal of an ECCS'11 Satellite Meeting workshop titled "Social energy - a useful concept for analyzing complex social systems?" in the first days of January. If you are interested in participating in the organization of the workshop, please let me know.


14.06.2011 18:27

Sarah Wolf

Re: Re: Re: Social energy

For everybody interested in the social energy discussions:
please note the workshop announcement of a Satellite Meeting at the European Conference on Complex Systems, ECCS'11, that will be held in September in Vienna.

Social Energy: A Useful Notion for Analysing Complex Socio-ecological Systems?
Details under


17.03.2011 13:57

Sarah Wolf

< back to main discussion