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Tipping Points

Aims and Themes

Our research programme is:

(a) Assessing, through quantitative and qualitative analysis, the extent to which the tipping point analogy is truly a property of the world in which we live.

(b) Explore how 'tipping points' become assigned metaphorically, sometimes evolving to the point that they themselves gain agency.

(c) Consider what this understanding means for how we live within a tipping point world given its potentially profound implications for anticipatory knowledge.

To achieve these aims, we will pursue four core themes:

  1. Natural versus Economic 'tipping points': Few would compare past glaciations with the current global financial crisis, but we are developing a detailed historical and contemporary understanding of two classic 'tipping point' systems; one a property of the physical world (albeit influenced by humans); and the other of the human world; to test the validity of applying the term to both systems
  2. Mathematical Representation and Analysis: Using non-linear dynamical systems analysis to assess the validity of assigning 'tipping points' to these systems, extending the analysis to a wider set of systems and using innovative statistical methods to understand whether we can mathematically predict the preparedness of a system for a tip
  3. From Metaphor to Agency: Exploring the metaphorical use of the term to understand how this and similar labels become assigned to events, articulated and visualised; how they gain agency, even catalysing the very behaviour they intended to describe
  4. Living with Tipping Points: By integrating the above, considering how society might learn to live with tipping points, both as a part of the human condition and in relation to how we prepare for the future
Diagram of Tipping Points Work Packages

Diagram of Tipping Points Work Packages

The TP work packages will focus on different aspects of how the tipping point metaphor is applied within physical and socioeconomic contexts.  The first work package (WP1) is on rapid environmental change on the North Atlantic seaboard; the second (WP2) examines the contexts and causes of the recent and historic banking crises in the UK.  These two work packages will provide the core data for mathematical analysis (WP3) and research on the tipping point metaphor and whether it has agency (WP4).  In addition, smaller scale studies of systems described as 'tipping points' and other studies relevant to its metaphorical use are also included.  Finally, all four work packages will culminate into Deep Thinking (WP5) that will develop ways to identify and deal with the tipping point systems we may encounter if we live in a tipping point world.