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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


SENEKAL, Burgert. The use of network theory in a system-theoretical approach to Afrikaans literature: A theory overview. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2013, vol.53, n.4, pp.668-682. ISSN 2224-7912.

Over the past two decades, the study of complex systems has become an increasingly popular scientific paradigm in various disciplines (although it has been in existence for some time), even within the study of literature. Complex systems theory posits that an understanding of the relationships between entities is the key to understanding the dynamics of the system and that the functioning of a system is the result of these relationships, and thus the emphasis falls on relationships rather than on individual characteristics of entities within the system. Furthermore, complex systems utilise these relationships to become highly adaptable, both meeting the challenges of a changing environment, and adapting to the system's own dynamism. Since the late nineties, however, network theory has become one of the popular approaches in the study of complex systems, along with nonlinear dynamics, agent based models, and statistical mechanics (Ottino 2005:1843), and has found applications in several disciplines, ranging from the study of metabolic processes, ecosystems, networks within the brain, climatology, and communication networks, to terrorist networks. Several studies in various disciplines found that network theory is a useful and essential approach to complex systems, especially since network theory shares system theory's basic premise, namely that relationships between entities play a crucial role in the overall functioning of the system. Strogatz (2001:268) writes that the recent interest in networks is directly related to a general interest in complex systems; Maslov, Sneppen, and Zaliznyak (2004:529) write that networks "have emerged as a unifying theme in complex systems research," and Amaral and Ottino (2004:147) argue that network theory, "has become one of the most visible pieces of the body of knowledge that can be applied to the description, analysis, and understanding of complex systems". Network theory moves beyond verbal description (the way systems theory is currently applied to the study of literature) to mathematical modelling, which allows the network approach to take into account all the relationships within a network, and take into account vast numbers of entities, which is currently impossible within the systems theory approach to the study of literature. The practical implication of this approach within the study of complex systems is that network theory realises systems theory's basic premise that entities cannot be studied in isolation, but must be studied within the networks of relationships that sustain them. Although literary studies is thoroughly familiar with systems theory, network theory, however, is an almost unknown field, and this article describes how network theory can be integrated with systems theory in terms of the study of literature, and argues that this integration can lead to a better understanding of the literary network, especially through network theory's ability to take into account a greater number of relationships through mathematical calculations and graphical representations. Network theory has become indispensable in the study of complex systems; the proposal in this article is that network theory not be ignored in the study of literature as well. In this regard, following Ottino (2005), Brownlee (2007), Bullmore and Sporns (2009), Nitschke (2009), Sheard and Mostashari (2009), Luke and Stamatakis (2012) and others, this study in addition argues for the application of the network approach to the study of the literary system. Suggestions for future research are put forward.

Keywords : Social Network Analysis; SNA; complex networks; complex systems; polysystem theory; Even-Zohar; Afrikaans literary system.

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