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«Social Chaperones» 
Oleskin, Alexander V., Budanov, Vladimir G., Kurdyumov, Vladimir S.

Oleskin, Alexander V., Lomonosov Moscow State University
Budanov, Vladimir G., Institute of Philosophy of the Russian Academy of Sciences
Kurdyumov, Vladimir S., Institute for Economic Strategies of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Note: The assistance of Cao Boyang (MSU-BIT University, Shenzhen, China) is gratefully acknowledged.

The development of network society (the network revolution) in the present-day world necessitates the establishment of networked regulatory organizations that can exert a positive influence on this process. They can be regarded as analogs of biomolecular chaperones that function in the living cell. Such social chaperones can design optimal scenarios of the network revolution. They can take account of various possible organizational options (paradigms) of network structures. Chaperones can creatively use paradigms that function in biological systems ranging from unicellular organisms to schooling fish, social insects, and apes. Social chaperones can contribute to their implementation using the whole spectrum of possible strategies of promoting expedient network scenarios and convincing political leaders and government regulators of their importance for humankind.

Keywords: decentralized network structures, network concept, chaperones, society

Decentralized network structures1 are currently spreading in various spheres of human society: they are exemplified by interdisciplinary scientific laboratories, teams of bohemian artists, and networked enterprises of different size. Network organizational principles inform educational techniques (especially those based on forming creative teams among students) and unconventional military strategies and provide the foundations for nongovernmental organizations and movements within the framework of civil society.

Why are network structures so different from more traditional social bodies that have been conceptualized in the social sciences using systems theory?

According to Ludwig von Bertallanfy, any system can be characterized by describing all its elements and the links among them. This approach has proven quite efficient with respect to simple closed systems with a fixed set of elements (nodes, vertices) and links (edges). Even if it is admitted that a system is open to external controlling influences as exemplified by energy, substance, and information flows, the system’s behavior can still be explained by creating theoretical models, and this is within the scope of cybernetics and synergetics.

Investigating networks is a more challenging task. Superficially, a network is just a graph with vertices and edges. However, if network nodes represent human individuals or other living organisms, they are involved not only in individual-individual dyadic interaction but also in individual-collective communication. In a love triangle, the third partner is jealous not of each of the two other partners; the object of jealousy is their relationship. In other words, small or large groups behave as network nodes, in addition to individuals. If a system includes not only the elements of the original set of actors but also the set of all their subsets and, in addition, the set of all subsets of those subsets and so on, then such a system has an indefinitely large number of elements and is referred to as a hypergraph according to Khokhlova [2]. The hypergraph approach enables conceptualizing complex social and biological self-reflexive networks. The number of nodes in such systems is not fixed, and they provide better models for interpreting the behavior of living beings and of human society in conformity with Luhman’s concepts. In the foreseeable future, the hypergraph approach will hardly replace the currently popular active medium concept in synergetics as well as the cell automaton concept. However, it is to be expected that the hypergraph paradigm will coexist with these concepts.

A wide variety of different aproaches are used to deal with network structures in natural, social, and technical systems. It is in human society that we have to study maximally complex networks. Their members are human individuals that possess their special internal worlds and are endowed with freedom of will; relationships among them are highly variable.

Biological networks bear especially much similarity to social networks; therefore, their recent classification into several types seems to be of paramount importance even beyond the scope of biology per se. Such a classification is similar to the classification of attractor types in nonlinear dynamic systems, which has proven applicable to small-dimensional synergetic models and catastrophy theory that have informed our nonlinear intuition starting from Poincare’s seminal work. A taxonomic classification of networks actually helps unravel the order parameters controlling a network’s behavior. Order parameters can be subdivided into two types. Conservers maintain a network’s homeostasis and represent relatively slowly changing variables in synergetic terms. In contrast, transformers make the network change its taxonomic position. Typically, there is a large number of such transformers, they undergo rapid changes themselves, and compete for the system’s resources. The most efficient among them gain control over all available resources and convert into new conservators [3, p. 238].

Taken together, all these regulatory forces and behavior norms constitute the matrix of a network structure. In human social networks, order parameters are personified by individuals or groups (organizations) tasked with setting forth and implementing regulations and norms according to which networks develop and work. These agents are referred to as chaperones in this work. In a more inclusive meaning, chaperones also comprise all the components of the aforementioned network matrix. Even though a network is decentralized, its matrix can be likened to an invisible leader of the network so that chaperones merely carry out the will of the matrix.

Despite the obvious specific features of human society as a unique system, the patterns and laws of its development seem to be sufficiently similar to those of many biological systems, and these important analogies are at the basis of the novel interdisciplinary field called biopolitics. Of significant importance in the context of this work is the fact that biological systems form analogs of human network structures, which include a wide variety of organizational types [1, 4]. There are also analogs of human hierarchies and (quasi)market structures in biological systems.

The development of many network structures both in biological systems and in human society chiefly depends on their self-organization rather than on external controlling agents. Self-organization proceeds at the molecular level: the purified denatured (i.e., having a dysfunctional conformation) ribonuclease enzyme spontaneously reacquires the functional conformation, so that its folding pattern enables its normal operation. Spontaneous self-assembly is characteristic of tobacco mosaic virus particles and bacterial ribosome subunits.

In biological systems and human society, spontaneous self-organization successfully proceeds as long as it does not exceed certain limits; otherwise, a corrective external influence is necessary. In biopolymers, interactions within and between polypeptides and other molecules should be controlled in order to decrease the probability of forming “wrong structures” that do not perform the functions which are necessary in the given situation [5]. In a similar fashion, research on human network structures including those in business has revealed that many networked organizational forms actually fail to fulfill the functions for which they have been set up [6].

This invites a more general discussion regarding human society. The global spread of network structures, i.e., the network revolution, takes place irrespective of the presence of controlling agents. However, in an analogy to uncontrollably folding biological molecules, a networks-based social system without regulatory bodies risks becoming dysfunctional and destructive, due to its inadequate organization, corruption, or the influence of detrimental forces. They are exemplified, in human society, by the network structures of drug dealers or terrorists, including Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State.

Many molecular biological systems contain chaperones that, in the biological sense, represent molecules regulating the assembly, folding, and functioning of other biological molecules2. As far as protein molecules are concerned, various types of chaperones are responsible for the correct folding of polypeptide chains upon their biosynthesis, their integration into higher-order structures (oligomerization), and the adequate modification of the resulting structures during their transfer across biological membranes and subsequent operation. The biological term chaperone was first suggested at a scientific conference in Copenhagen in 1987 and shortly thereafter mentioned in an article published in Nature. However, the original meaning of the word “chaperone” in English is “an older person who accompanies young people at a social gathering to ensure proper behavior” [7].

Chaperones are mandatory for many molecular biological systems; otherwise, a large number of cell processes associated with protein folding pose the risk of forming inadequately functioning structures. This is due to the fact that numerous weak molecular interactions should be properly adjusted for maintaining proteins in their functional state [5].

Social chaperones (intermediary structures) are analogs of molecular biological chaperones. They can perform a number of important functions within the context of the ongoing network revolution, including the following:

  1. Promoting the development and dissemination of decentralized network structures in all spheres of society in which they are useful. Of paramount importance is the creativity-stimulating capacity of network structures, particularly while dealing with ambiguous issues that require innovative ideas. To a much greater extent than hierarchies, networks provide, apart from information resources, emotional support for their members. Members tend to identify with their network, which implies adopting the main goals, behavioral norms, and special ethical rules of the network. Even if the reason for setting up a network is entirely pragmatic, such a social body tends to evolve into a close-knit quasi-communal structure. Whenever a virtual network (e.g., a webchat or an Internet-club) becomes sufficiently stable and long-lived, its members often develop amazingly intimate trust-based informal relationships. These relationships involve many different aspects of the members’ lives. Such multi-faceted relationships help the networks successfully crunch multi-faceted problems.

  1. Familiarizing network structure developers in various spheres of society with the whole spectrum of different organizational types of networks. Importantly, network structures can be based on a wide variety of organizational scenarios. Biology is an important mine of information in this respect. Diverse variants of decentralized biological structures (denoted as biological network paradigms in the authors’ previous work [1]) can provide much food for thought for network structure developers in human society, including the economic and political sphere. Despite the obvious differences between humans and other forms of life or between human social systems and biosocial systems of various non-human biological species, biological network paradigms undoubtedly can be considered useful building blocks for developing the scenarios of decentralized networked business enterprises, networked associations of citizens within the framework of civil society, or teams of artists. The pluralism of the organizational principles of network structures in living nature is highlighted by the fact that there are at least seven different network paradigms [1, 4]:

  • cellular (microbial) paradigm

  • rhizome (fungal) paradigm

  • neural paradigm

  • modular (cnidarian) paradigm

  • equipotential (fish) paradigm

  • eusocial (ant) paradigm

  • egalitarian (ape) paradigm.

Plausibly, other (non-network) structures, such as centralized hierarchies and (quasi-) market structures, can be also used in terms of combined organizational scenarios. Chaperones can make good use of already existing social structures that successfully use, combine, and modify various network paradigms. They are exemplified by the Zed Books publishing company (Great Britain)3.

In terms of using network structures in the educational system, there are important reasons for choosing the modular network paradigm as the optimum organizational pattern of classroom creative teams. Each of such teams is to be considered a semi-autonomous module within the framework of a higher-order network that includes all students in the classroom. Like polyps and medusas in a colony of cnidarians, such modules are expected to solve problems in parallel, to compete with one another (which should increase their motivation) and nonetheless, to cooperate in terms of carrying out the same project, e.g., suggesting new legal and (bio)political regulations for the purpose of protecting the forest around the mountains near the Chinese town of Shenzhen. Each of the teams (modules) is acquiring new knowledge and skills while doing creative tasks in the classroom; each of them also acquires its special team image and collective identity. However, all the modules are interconnected because they all deal with the same project. This overarching project represents an immaterial analog of the membrane cover (coenosarc) holding zooids together in a cnidarian colony.

As for the aforementioned equipotential (fish) paradigm, flat leaderless structures that reveal much similarity to fish shoals in organizational terms, have been already established in the field of environmental conservation. Such organizational principles—and the important role of informal interactions among network members—are stipulated in the official documents of the Socio-Ecological Union (SEU) that has been in operation in Russia and some other republics of the former Soviet Union. The SEU has succeeded in bringing together the “people who are ready to work for our common future” [8]. Since its institution in December 1988, the Union has lacked a “vertical power structure”. Each SEU member is encouraged to take action independently, in compliance with the SEU Statutes. Even though the SEU structure includes the Chairpersons’ Council and the Head Office, these bodies do not control the SEU members, they merely assist them in the activities in which they decide to engage and provide them with detailed relevant information.

Chaperones should help networks chose the optimum paradigm (or paradigm combination/modification) in a given situation.

  1. Mediating interactions between network and non-network structures and, in more general terms, interactions between any structures belonging to different organizational types, e.g., between networks and hierarchies, networks and (quasi-)markets, or hierarchies and (quasi-) markets. Chaperones also may ameliorate interactions between several structures of the same type, for instance, between several network structures. Importantly, even an advanced network society will still also include non-network structures in those spheres of society where they are necessary. Despite the spread of decentralized networks in civil society, a centralized political hierarchy will still perform the nation-consolidating function that involves developing the national ideology and providing guidelines for the country’s interactions with other countries around the globe as well as furthering the nation’s political, economic, and financial interests. Promoting constructive interactions between decentralized networks and hierarchies including bureaucracies, networks and (quasi-) market structures, and also productive communication among decentralized network structures should involve intermediary bodies, and this function should be fulfilled by social chaperones. Intermediary bodies that are responsible for the interaction between the networks of civil society and the hierarchies of the political systems include think tanks. They are exemplified by nonprofit political organizations that evaluate political projects and develop political guidelines [10]. Think tanks consist of expert teams carrying out educational, evaluative, creative, communicative, and promotional projects. Recently, predominantly decentralized network-type structures in the USA, such as the RAND Corporation, the Brookings Institution, and Hudson Institute have demonstrated their efficiency in terms of political planning. Their facilitative role is based on elucidating the linkages between scientific knowledge and political power as well as between science & technology—and political projects [11]. For instance, the RAND Corporation provides its long-term recommendations for politicians on the basis of theoretical studies in various areas of research; these recommendations cannot be prepared at the offices of political institutions because their staff predominantly concentrates on present-day tasks and narrowly-specialized problem solving [1211]. Think tanks are independent social bodies that mediate the interactivity between the political hierarchy and horizontal networked teams of scientists/scholars. This independence is highlighted by their characteristic customs and rituals. One of the customs of the RAND Corporation was that its staff members went to a swimming-pool during the lunch break, their dress was casual; the atmosphere was relaxed, and the staff was communicable [11].

  1. Monitoring and assessing currently active network structures in terms of their goals, behavior norms, etc. To reiterate, the establishment of a predominantly network-style society around the globe should be called the network revolution. The emergent new social and economic system can be referred to as the network (reticular) social formation. Optimizing the functioning of the novel social formation requires the involvement of social chaperones. Their goals should include regulating the ongoing network revolution on the global, national, and local scale as well as improving humankind’s quality of life by promoting beneficial networks, especially those with a humanitarian agenda; and counteracting the spread of detrimental networks associated with crime, corruption, and terrorism. Social chaperones can make the new developing social formation more humane by fostering peace-making, environmental, health-promoting, and other humanitarian networks and facilitating their interactions with non-network (hierarchical, quasi-market) structures.

It should be re-emphasized that social chaperones can be organized as decentralized distributed networks that are responsible for stimulating and educating other social structures. The target network structures may be narrowly specialized (like a network of public restrooms on Lenin Street in the town of N) or have a very broad focus, dealing with the cardinal issue of the future of humankind and the planet Earth in the Solar System. Such regulatory network structures should include prominent scholars, educators, and experts in socially and politically important matters. In addition, such chaperone network structures could incorporate social activists, journalists, artists, and the clergy.

There are three different strategies of establishing and promoting chaperone networks:

  • The bottom-up strategy that is based on establishing socially/politically active associations of ordinary citizens as exemplified by (savings bank) shareholders, hospital patients, environmental activists, and car drivers

  • The top-down strategy involving the government’s decision to establish creative network teams with regulatory functions, including the aforementioned think tanks aimed at solving ambiguous problems that may require brain-storming sessions

  • The combined strategy that might be the best option and involves both the elite and the people, the top and the bottom of human society. Let us imagine that the World Health Organization (WHO) has decided to use the top-down strategy in an African town with an HIV-infected population. Active citizens, in their turn, should now use the bottom-up strategy and take the responsibility for coordinating the efforts of all relevant health care, educational, and scientific research institutions.

The reason why the combined strategy might be the optimum option is that chaperone networks should not be set up only by a decree of the government; otherwise, they risk becoming just puppets whose strings are pulled by the puppeteers of the political elite. Nonetheless, chaperone networks should not be created only by ordinary citizens because they may lack the necessary qualifications and be too narrow-minded. The top-down and the bottom-up pathways dialectically interact in the combined strategy.

All these considerations are of relevance to social chaperones regardless of their country and the social/political environment in which they provide guidelines for the development of network society. However, there are specific additional country- or region-specific functions to be performed by chaperone networks. A priority task for chaperones in Russia could be facilitating the interaction between

  • Market-type structures (characteristic of the realm of business) and decentralized network structures in which informal relationships dominate over business communication and the importance of business activities is diminished by the prevalence of a commune-style ethic

  • The hierarchies of the political system, including the President’s office, and decentralized network structures that are based upon the nonhierarchical principle or at least promote horizontal relationships

In addition, chaperones in Russia (and also in such countries as, e.g., China) should be tasked with legalizing and institutionalizing useful network structures, familiarizing their members with the aforementioned biological paradigms of their organization [1, 4, 12]. If no guidance is provided by chaperones, networks will grow in society like fungi4, but predominantly yield human analogs of toadstools—including criminal and terrorist networks—rather than useful mushrooms. While stimulating the development of beneficial networks with humanitarian, charitable, health-promoting, environmental, or educational goals, social chaperones should counteract the spread of detrimental network structures.

It is imperative that unprecedented decisions should be made to change the law and even a country’s Constitution in order to legalize networks in various spheres of society as exemplified by networked enterprises and local business clusters [13]. Social chaperone structures should also acquire a legal status. This will give a new impetus to the interaction between power structures and ordinary citizens in any country around the globe and obviously give the countries involved new chances and options in political, economic, and cultural terms.

In order to successfully monitor and promote the development of decentralized networks both at the local and at the regional and global level, social chaperones should exert a sufficiently strong social and political influence on power structures and the leading representatives of the business world. In this case, practical measures can be efficiently taken whenever an authoritative statement is made by a chaperone, e.g., This network structure is sufficiently useful to be promoted or, alternatively, This network is detrimental and must be disbanded or at least reformed.

To reiterate, the network revolution will not result in completely eliminating other types of social structures, such as hierarchies or (quasi-)markets. A prerequisite for the successful solution of many politically/socially important problems is productive interaction between different types of structures. Therefore, social chaperones should be also tasked with promoting useful communication between hierarchies, networks, and (quasi-)markets.

Moreover, structures can interconvert. If time is considered the fourth spatial coordinate, then transformations of structures over time and their interactions at a given moment are variants of the same phenomenon. Different structures are located at different spatial or temporal points of the space-time continuum. Various systems in the biological and the social sphere display a wide variety of transformation/interaction patterns. In human society, these transformations or interactions partly result from efforts that have been intentionally made by the people involved. “Agents choose to cooperate or not in a market, hierarchy, or network as a function of their individual attributes and their beliefs about the attributes of the other agents with whom they may interact” [14].

Louis Meulemann [15] suggested that “meta-governors”, i.e. social chaperones in our terms, should “design and manage situationally optimal mixtures of governance styles”, i.e. types of organizational structures. Chaperones dealing, e.g., with public policy issues, are to “combine governance style elements”, “switch between governance style elements”, and “maintain the mixture”. For example, “during a crisis, a hierarchical command and control style should be in place, because time is crucial and quick decisions are needed”. After the crisis, market-type organizations are preferable, while in a crisis-free period, “parties cooperate in the form of a network and work on enhancing mutual trust and understanding” [15, p.vii].

A network’s work on a multi-stage project can involve repeated interconversion between (i) the independent work of each network member (or each small subnetwork) which necessarily results in competition among them and (ii) the operation of a close-knit team in which cooperation dominates over competition. Such a multi-stage project can, for instance, pursue the biopolitically important goal of Replacing Petrochemicals with Environment-Friendly Bio-Fuel (such as yeast-produced ethanol, bacterially synthesized butanol, and lignocelluloses made from wood). Introducing each of these bio-fuels could constitute a self-contained stage within the whole project to be carried out by a rhizome-type networked organization.

What makes social reality still more complex is that there are at least different kinds of decentralized networks at play at any given moment:

  • real network structures based on communication among network members;

  • imaginary network structures existing in the mind of each network member [2];

  • the collective unconscious of network members; social network developers should creatively use it in terms of crowd sourcing and crowd funding techniques; drawing on the works of Jung and Pauli, the collective unconscious should be conceptualized in terms of quantum theory and transpersonal psychology.

It is to be expected that currently developing digital economy should promote the spread of various kinds of decentralized network structures around the globe. For instance, they are likely to take root in countries like Russia and China, provided that their governments take adequate measures for legalizing and institutionalizing them. Transborder social chaperone networks that can combine, e.g., Russian and Chinese members, could provide guidelines for their development. Such mixed chaperones would positively influence the economy, culture, and political life in both countries involved and facilitate loyal interactions between these countries in the face of common challenges including, unfortunately, the notorious coronavirus.

The list of the functions to be fulfilled by social chaperones should be supplemented with their capacity to subtly influence the attitudes and aspirations of the people. Network structures using online facilities have already proven their efficiency in motivating or, alternatively, demotivating the people at large with regard to certain plans and ideas.