On the growth and structure of social systems following preferential attachment

Authors: Hébert-Dufresne, Laurent
Advisor: Dubé, Louis J.
Abstract: Social systems are notoriously unfair. In this thesis, we focus on the distribution and structure of shared resources and activities. Through this lens, their extreme inequalities tend to roughly follow a universal pattern known as scale independence which manifests itself through the absence of a characteristic scale. In physical systems, scale-independent organizations are known to occur at critical points in phase transition theory. The position of this critical behaviour being very specific, it is reasonable to expect that the distribution of a social resource might also imply specific mechanisms. This analogy is the basis of this work, whose goal is to apply tools of statistical physics to varied social activities. As a first step, we show that a system whose resource distribution is growing towards scale independence is subject to two constraints. The first is the well-known preferential attachment principle, a mathematical principle roughly stating that the rich get richer. The second is a new general form of delayed temporal scaling between the population size and the amount of available resource. These constraints pave a precise evolution path, such that even an instantaneous snapshot of a distribution is enough to reconstruct its temporal evolution and predict its future states. We validate our approach on diverse spheres of human activities ranging from scientific and artistic productivity, to sexual relations and online traffic. We then broaden our framework to not only focus on resource distribution, but to also consider the resulting structure. We thus apply our framework to the theory of complex networks which describes the connectivity structure of social, technological or biological systems. In so doing, we propose that an important class of complex systems can be modelled as a construction of potentially infinitely many levels of organization all following the same universal growth principle known as preferential attachment. We show how real complex networks can be interpreted as a projection of our model, from which naturally emerge not only their scale independence, but also their clustering or modularity, their hierarchy, their fractality and their navigability. Our results suggest that social networks can be quite simple, and that the apparent complexity of their structure is largely a reflection of the complex hierarchical nature of our world.
Document Type: Thèse de doctorat
Issue Date: 2014
Open Access Date: 20 April 2018
Permalink: http://hdl.handle.net/20.500.11794/25331
Grantor: Université Laval
Collection:Thèses et mémoires

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