Might the world we live in be made up of contingent, emergent 'assemblages'? If so, how might complexity theory help us understand such assemblages?
Assemblage geographers consider space in ways similar to relational geographers. However, they focus more on the temporary and contingent ways in which forces and flows come together to form stable entities. Thus, they are less focused upon how relations are structured, and more upon the nature of the assemblages that come to exist as a result of shifting relations.
Assemblage geographers seize upon concepts of path-dependence and Bifurcations: moments when chance events determine the trajectory of systems that are sensitive to historical unfolding. Manuel de Landa explains how in order to properly conceptualize actualized geographical space, it is necessary to see this as being the manifestation of only one particular trajectory - situated within a much broader Phase Space of The Virtual potentials. This introduction of history situates urban systems as subject to Contingency, with their actual behaviors representing only one possible trajectory of a much broader phase space potential.
Assemblage theorists frame the concept of Emergence in a much more philosophical manner. Following the works of the philosophers Deleuze and Guattari, they describe concrete urban entities as emergent, in determinant and historically contingent Stabilized Assemblages. Assemblages are brought into existence through distributed agency. The notion of and 'Assemblage', echoes that of an emergent characteristics, and some geographers have suggested the phrase 'Complex Adaptive Assemblage' in place of 'Complex Adaptive System'. Assemblages are configurations of inter-meshed forces - human/non-human, local/non-local, material, technical, social, etc., that are stabilized at particular moments. Once in place - like emergent features, these take on agency in structuring further events. Agents in a particular assemblage have particular capacities which one might see as analogous to Degrees of Freedom, but how these capacities manifest is subject to Contingency: predicated on the nature of flows, forces, or the Patterns of Interactions at play in a given situation.
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