When Hierarchies and Networks Collide
Oday Kamal

The edges in a network need not be homogenous, and I’d argue it is better if they are not. This is true for most human networks, where it is natural for hierarchies to emerge and for there to be a diversity of relationships.

Even though they have historically been arbitrarily homogenous and domineering (gender, race, etc.), hierarchies aren’t inherently bad. They can provide order and meaning, and give us abstractions to better understand complex systems. For example:

  • Teams A and B work on things more closely related than C and D — organizational hierarchy
  • She knows more about the billing system than he does — hierarchy of knowledge or expertise
  • The infrastructure team serves internal customers, who in turn serve external customers — hierarchy of responsibility/value
  • He is mentoring me on time management skills — hierarchy of support

If we can acknowledge multiple hierarchies — making them explicit and not arbitrary — we can avoid the “tyranny” of traditional org charts while keeping a handle on networked complexity.

c.f. Metamodernism