Complex and Adaptive Systems

Simulating Feminism

The past years feminism has returned as a prominent movement. Look on any social platform or news site, and one can find articles about feminism or hashtags such as #metoo, #intersectionalfeminism, and #ImWithHer. But what makes it that feminism and other social movements are at the rise at certain moments in history but are functioning in the background at other moments?

In order to answer this question, this project looks at feminism as a complex and adaptive system. Complex systems are made up out of large number of components that on their own represent relatively simple processes [1]. However, the combination of interactions makes these systems difficult to understand. The behaviour of the components is often nonlinear, sometimes chaotic or unpredictable, and often experiences evolution. So what behaviour influences the rise and fall of feminism? And how do these behaviours influence each other?

By programming a simulation based on parameters found in academic literature, the goal was to see how these parameters contribute to the rise and fall, and how they influence each other. The selected parameters focus on a hotspot and a notspot (places where feminism is active and places where it isn’t), media influence, backlash, and random spurs. The media influence determines how many people can be reached with an ideology. With the coming of books, pamphlets, and the internet, this influence has increased through the ages. The backlash consists out of agents which are anti-feminist. These agents are always active in the simulation, but more of them will sprout once feminism is blossoming in an area [2]. Lastly, the random spurs are meant to create the unpredictable behaviour which is also found in real life. A spur can either result in the generation of extra feminist agents (white squares in the simulation) or antifeminist agents (the red dots in the simulation), depending on the leading philosophy within the simulation. The simulation is based on Conway’s Game of Life [3]. Beneath you can see a video of the simulation. In order to play with the code yourself, you can download it here.

  • Team Marije Baars | Rosa van Koningsbruggen
  • [1] NWO (2014), Grip on Complexity, How Manageable are Complex Systems?. Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research: The Hague
    [2] Blais, M., & Dupuis-Déri, F. (2012). Masculinism and the antifeminist countermovement. Social Movement Studies, 11(1), 21-39.
    [3] Wilensky, U. (2005). NetLogo Life Turtle-Based model. Center for Connected Learning and Computer-Based Modeling, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL.