Project Title: ATACD - A Topological Approach to Cultural Dynamics
(NEST – 043415)

Pathfinder Initiative: 2005/2006 

Duration: 36 months 

Free keywords: Topology, culture, networks, interdisciplinary, modeling movement, co-evolution, form, potentiality, markets, migration, technology, language, transformation, intensity, innovation, connectedness

The mathematical analysis of dynamics has opened up the possibility of innovative approaches to the study of culture, enabling not simply the numerical manipulation of cultural data, but offering tools, models and concepts for the understanding of the intensities of cultural change. The proposed Co-ordinated Action, A Topological Approach to Cultural Dynamics (ATACD) aims to provide an infrastructure for the sharing and consolidation of topological approaches to the study of cultural dynamics across disciplines. Put simply, topology is the study of structural invariance under deformation. What makes it especially useful in the study of cultural dynamics is that it captures almost everything in our intuition of continuity. And what makes it a distinctive approach to the study of cultural dynamics vis-à-vis other approaches to the study of culture is that it provides tools for the understanding of culture that are neither typological nor topographic. This means that it makes possible the study of: 

cultural change as normal and immanent rather than exceptional and externally determined;
cultures as constituted in relations rather as having some essential properties; 
cultures as intensive, not extensive, that is, cultures are defined by their possibilities for change rather than their size or location. 

A topological approach to cultural dynamics thus provides a set of tools and concepts to think about different levels and kinds of change – learning, transmission, and innovation - as normal, relational and intensive. The approach is especially useful at the present time of rapid cultural change as it makes possible the study of values but avoids normative judgments.

It also provides a distinctive perspective on the questions of cultural predictability and innovation. Geometry has been understood as a perception of space that is to be actualized and repeated in the future. What topology offers to the study of cultural dynamics is a set of tools for thinking about the process of actualisation that is to do with possibilities rather than certainty. It offers a framework for the study of culture that is not to do with the measurement of fixed human properties and their extrapolation into the future but instead enables the problematization of events in terms of the potential they offer for change. It thus offers a complex model of predictability. The potential value of such an approach for the public perception and management of cultural change is profound.

The project is organised in a matrix structure, with activities co-ordinated by a seven member Steering Committee whose members are rotating on a regular basis. The ATACD project is chaired by the Project Coordinator (Goldsmiths).

The activities of the project are divided into 6 gWorking Packagesh that are linked to the different research and consortium management activities of the project:

A diagram of the main project activities can be downloaded here.

A diagram of the participating Working Groups can be downloaded here.


One of the main goals of the ATACD project is to build the capacity of researchers in Europe with skills and understanding of topological approaches to the study of cultural dynamics through mechanisms by which partners may interact and expand their research potential.
A number of different activities has been designed to enable researchers already conducting research in the topologically informed study of four important fields of culture to: share their understandings; interact with each other in a number of different forms across different working environments; explore the possibilities of inter-disciplinary approaches; develop links with other researchers in the academy, industry and policy worlds; expand their research potential; promote the understanding of a topological approach to the public.
A detailed programme of events which has been planned in such a way as to enable a structured, developmental engagement will be developed in the course of the project:
Following and accompanying the intensive exchange in colloquia between all partners, there will be opportunities for many partners to participate in the sustained, dialogic exchange made possible by residencies. These are intended to stimulate future collaboration in topological analyses of cultural dynamics between different disciplines, specifically including future research projects, mobility and training.
There will also be a major interdisciplinary three-day conference on topological approaches to culture, called A Topological Approach to Cultural Dynamics. The participants at the conference will include the partners, representatives of their networks as appropriate, new and established researchers, and representatives of multiple stakeholders.
The various activities organised by ATACD will culminate in an assessment of the international state of the art in the study of cultural dynamics and identify new research directions through the production of the ATACD Roadmap.