Article Title

Supranational Networks: States and Firms


The nation-state systems that seem to dominate the global landscape are not necessarily the pinnacle of evolution. A conglomeration of interacting factors spelled doom for the traditional colonialism of previous centuries while providing an ideal environment for multinational firms operating above the level of nation-states to play an important role in the generation of a new politico-socio-economic system better described by network models than by ordinary political models. Previously existing units and subunits, in the course of adjustment and adaptation to changing circumstances, change their relations with one another and are, sometimes, newly integrated in a novel manner such that new units or subunits are recognizable.

It is puzzling that most scholars still see these changes as merely quantitative growth rather than as a qualitatively new system at a supranational level of integration. Because human beings start from concepts we already know, one really has to be strongly motivated to try to go beyond the cognitive concepts one uses regularly to attempt to conceive of something different. In the perspective of millions of years of evolution both states and business firms are relatively recent emergents out of the processes of adaptation that generate all social formations. Both business firms and nation states are kinds of corporations, and it is a mistake to deal separately with the international network of states when it seems perfectly obvious that the supranational system includes interacting states and corporations in a single complex network. Most countries are not "natural" nation-states, but are corporations whose control over some territory is recognized by some other states. States and companies should be treated similarly in analysis of the supranational system and the best model for studying the supranational system is a network model that begins with defining units and their relationships. In that mode, applying various mathematical algorithms, one can find clusters and equivalence sets representing different levels of organization in the network. At the same time as states are influencing firms, firms are busily influencing states.

Author Bio(s)

Alvin W. Wolfe, Ph.D., is Distinguished University Professor Emeritus, Department of Anthropology, at the University of South Florida. For thirty years he coordinated applied anthropology internships and taught courses in network analysis. With his students, he has been applying formal network analysis to many social situations, including personal support networks and networks within and among organizations, especially in the area of health and human services. In 1994, he organized, with Honggang Yang, the Southern Anthropological Society's Key Symposium on Anthropological Contributions to Conflict Resolution, the Proceedings of which were published in 1996. Professor Wolfe was among the founders of the Sunbelt Social Network Conference, as well as the International Network for Social Network Analysis. In 2001, he founded the Florida Health and Human Services Board, Inc. He may be reached at wolfe@cas.usf.edu.

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