More Adaptive Networks! A Summary of Polysystem Theory

All this talk about complexity and adaptive networks reminded me of my brief, but fruitful foray into the work of Itamar Even-Zohar, a cultural/literary theorist at Tel Aviv University who developed Polysystem Theory in order to deal with dynamics, diversity and change in cultures. In addition, following from the broad Polysystem Theory, Even-Zohar is also fairly well known for his work on “culture making” and cultural repertoires, two issues that have concerned him in the last decade. Much of Even-Zohar’s work (in English and Hebrew) can be found here on his website.

Polysystem Theory, as developed by Itamar Even-Zohar, emerged as a response to the overwhelming positivist discourses circulating during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Instead of a static, a-historical text-based approach to literature and culture, Even-Zohar posits a dynamic structuralism or put differently, a dynamic functionalism. This static approach is best exemplified by de Saussure wherein structuralism is a science that attempts to uncover all of the structures that underlies all of the things we do, think and even feel. Saussure then, proceeds with a synchronic study of language. As a brilliant procrastination strategy I spent a few hours yesterday and this morning re-reading and thinking through some of Even-Zohar’s essays, so here’ a bit of a summary/commentary of Polysystem Theory (most of the quotes are from Even-Zohar’s essay “Polysystem Theory.” I’m far too lazy to cite properly since I just cut and pasted the quotes I liked from his text–hey, it’s a blog after all!) Continue reading