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Social Entropy

Updated: Jan 11, 2022

By Aya Taqi (April, 2021)

Table of Contents

Table of Contents 1

Introduction 1

Defining Entropy 2

Social Entropy and Kenneth Bailey 3

Social Entropy and Peace 5

Notes 6

Bibliography 7


Johan Galtung is a Norweigen sociologist most noted for his work surrounding peace research, because of his vast accomplishments in the field, Galtung is considered as the principal founder of peace and conflict studies. Galtung is associated with the concepts of positive and negative peace, structural violence and the conflict triangle, all which have revolutionized the way we address and engage with peace issues. Creating sustainable peace through peacekeeping, peacemaking, and specifically peacebuilding are strategies that involve everyone and are crucial to lasting peace. Peacekeeping and peacemaking efforts carried out by the UN largely follow Galtung’s theories and studies. Galtung is also credited for introducing the concept of entropy into peace studies.

Entropy, or Social Entropy as it is usually known is a well-developed concept in scientific studies and can also be found in sociology. Galtung, who is a sociologist, usually ordinates his theories from the same field. Galtung uses the concept of entropy for his theory of peace, making this concept important to understand, and if possible implemented to have peace that lasts.

The concept of entropy has found itself into peace studies more and more these days and the initial work and findings of Galtung has inspired theorists and experts to explore entropy. Kenneth Bailey is one of those who has taken an interest in the concept, Bailey can be described as the lead scholar on Social Entropy as he has the most published writings on the topic. Bailey is a professor of sociology at the University of California Los Angeles and an application of his work to peace and Galtung’s theory fit very well together.

Defining Entropy

Generally, entropy is the lack of order or gradual decline into disorder. The most common understanding of entropy is from physics, “thermodynamic quantity representing the unavailability of a system's thermal energy for conversion into mechanical work, often interpreted as the degree of disorder or randomness in the system” [1]. In information theory, entropy is a logarithmic measure of the rate of transfer of information in a particular message or language.

Galtung viewed peace as a structure, “Peace has a structure, and it is an infrastructure” [2] and he also emphasized the importance of structure for a peaceful future, “To be of any value in the fight against violence it must be built within nations as well as between nations” [3]. The six elements that make up the infrastructure for Galtung’s theory of peace are as follow:

  1. Equity

  2. Entropy

  3. Symbiosis

  4. Broad scope

  5. Large Domain

  6. Superstructure

Combined together, these six factors are necessary to ensure a sustainable and peaceful society according to Galtung. The other five terms seem straightforward when compared to entropy - equality, cooperation, society-wide inclusiveness, year-around infrastructure and staff dedicated to working on peace are all concepts we are familiar with but, what exactly does Galtung mean by entropy?

Galtung uses the term entropy to describe the process of automatic decay. Entropy is the natural decay of highly organized systems to disorganized and low energy states over time. Galtung suggests that such decay can ultimately lead to chaos. However, if managed adequately, entropy can lead to lasting peace (positive peace). Entropy relates more to the interactions within a state structure than the interactions between different states. Entropy is the tendency of society to automatically start acting randomly more and more. I think the word require doesn’t work. Entropy is a tendency, so when Galtung refers to entropy, he is referring to the natural decay of complex organized high energy social systems to states of low energy disorganized chaos. Entropy is a natural, inevitable and unstoppable process of decay that happens to any structure or process that is made of a complex order of things or that requires lots of energy to maintain its status quo, and this decay leads to a final state of low energy and or disorder of objects. The decay of systems can lead to chaos and destruction but, if managed adequately it can create an opportunity for positive change and renewal in society. The management of entropy is indicated by Galtung as a requirement for peace to last, it is one of the six elements that make up lasting peace, it is essential for people to understand what it means to create lasting peace

“Let us now bring in time and ask the crucial question: can any long time tendency be posited, using entropy as the basic variable? Does the world move towards higher or lower entropy in general? We shall try to show that any such uni-directional theory is bound to fail because of the strong forces operating both at the high entropy and the low entropy levels, tending to push the systems back when they have moved too far out on either extreme. In other words, we shall argue that there are considerable merits to a pendulum theory, where social systems are seen as oscillating between states of low and high entropy.” [4]

The above is a quote from Galtung’s 1967 Dynamics of Entropy section which further explains this theory of disorder and chaos.

Social Entropy and Kenneth Bailey

In his writings Kenneth Bailey explains that entropy and equilibrium are sibling concepts however, “entropy promises to be a more adequate measure of system state. It is a measure of disorder with both theoretical and statistical interpretations.” [5]. Bailey’s definition of entropy is aligned with Galtung’s, both scholars view entropy as natural, social and systemic decay. Bailey finds the concept of entropy more appealing than that of equilibrium when analyzing a social system. There are several reasons why equilibrium has been used in sociology more than the concept of entropy, a big factor is how equilibrium denotes stability and balance [6]. Furthermore, when discussing equilibrium there is a notion of balance and understandability which is absent when discussing entropy which does not have a “comforting intuitive understandability.”

Galtung used the concept of entropy to develop world indicators, which measure structural and cultural variations within a society. Bailey theorized Galtung’s studies and found that Galtung utilized two basic types of entropy - actor entropy and interaction entropy. Actor entropy emphasizes the individual actor and his or her actions whereas, interaction entropy refers to the social interactions between actors which utilize energy and process information [7]. The world does not move toward either concept but instead strong forces exist to push the system away from maximum entropy or minimum entropy, “the end result can be expressed in a "pendulum theory", which sees social systems as oscillating between low- and high-entropy states [8].

Bailey favors entropy over equilibrium because equilibrium is a poor measure of system state - it is arbitrary since any state can be in an equilibrium state [9]. Moreover, the concept of equilibrium is a closed-system concept whereas social systems are open systems, making equilibrium an inappropriate measure.

Bailey postulates that social systems and functioning are impacted by entropy along six dimensions:

  1. Spatial or geographic conditions: all social systems operate within a spatial area. In this case, space refers to the totality of physical, biological, and chemical elements within boundaries of the system.

  2. Population: it is imperative to include the population size when analyzing properties of systems.

  3. Level of living: this property is interchangeable with “quality of life” or “standard of living” and is a basic macrosociological property.

  4. Technology: here technology is defined as the tools utilized by society. These tools are generally used by society in the pursuit of societal goals (eg. increase level of living).

  5. Organization: Bailey defines organizational structure as a global property of the society. The units of organizational structure are made of jobs but they are not entirely made up of work roles; units can also include leisure roles and unemployment.

  6. Information: open systems allow for the importation of both energy and information across system boundaries. An important social process is the storing of information in markers.

Natural entropy occurs along these lines, a wealth of natural resources in a given spatial area, an optimal population size and advanced technology help in achieving a society's potential optimal level of living but it is important to have an adequate organizational structure and flow of information for this to happen [10].

Social Entropy and Peace

Stability, equilibrium and states of constant are usually associated with peace and achieving peace but Bailey challenges this by suggesting that to achieve lasting peace we need to manage the entropy to disorganized chaos [11]. Focusing efforts on stability and equilibrium is counter-productive and damaging in the long-term because human society does not have experience handling entropy, and entropy is inevitable to human life. This aligns with Galtung’s theory of peace perfectly, since managing entropy is one of the six elements to lasting peace. Bailey explains that the reality of reaching stability, balance and equilibrium however is that they are the opposite and tend to lean towards chaos meaning that the actual state that is dependable is the state of low energy and disorganized chaos. For there to be peace that will truly last, then society and its institutions must be designed to handle entropy without falling apart and collapsing into a dysfunctional state. Instead of entropy leading to dysfunction, entropy should lead to opportunities for renewal and growth.

To best manage entropy, areas where innovation is most likely to be found should be supported. For instance, efforts focused on the youth, arts, academia or provide large contributions to society can yield the most positive difference. Civil society is one of these areas, as it is decentralized and works on many issues that are prevalent in today’s society and are at the forefront of international organization’s agendas like the United Nations.

The key is for people to be trained how to manage conflict nonviolently through nonviolent conflict resolution and problem-solving to increase cooperation and community involvement. Galtung says conflict is natural to human institutions and interactions (as an example of entropy). The challenge is to manage conflict so that solutions are found and the situation doesn’t devolve into chaos and violence, and hopefully the solution will involve new ways of doing things, innovation and social renewal.


[1] “Entropy.” entropy noun - Definition | Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary at Accessed February 19, 2021.,of%20order%20In%20the%20business%20world%2C%20entropy%20rules.

[2] Russell, Bertrand, Tim Sluckin, and Johan Galtung. “Three Approaches to Peace: Peacekeeping, Peacemaking and Peacebuilding.” In The Impact of Science on Society, 282–304. London: Routledge, 1976.

[3] ibid.

[4] Galtung , Johan. Theories of Peace: A Synthetic Approach to Peace Thinking . Oslo: International Peace Research Institute, 1967.

[5] Bailey, Kenneth D. “Sociological Entropy Theory: Toward a Statistical and Verbal Congruence.” Quality & Quantity 18, no. 1 (1983).

[6] ibid.

[7] ibid.

[8] ibid.

[9] ibid.

[10] Bailey, K. D. “Social Entropy Theory: An Overview.” Systems Practice 3, no. 4 (1990): 365–82.

[11] Bailey, Kenneth D. “Sociological Entropy Theory: Toward a Statistical and Verbal Congruence.” Quality & Quantity 18, no. 1 (1983).


Bailey, Kenneth D. “Sociological Entropy Theory: Toward a Statistical and Verbal Congruence.”

Quality & Quantity 18, no. 1 (1983).

Bailey, K. D. “Social Entropy Theory: An Overview.” Systems Practice 3, no. 4 (1990): 365–82.

Boulding KE. Twelve Friendly Quarrels with Johan Galtung. Journal of Peace Research.

1977;14(1):75-86. doi:10.1177/002234337701400105

Jennings, Frederic. “A Horizontal Look at Social Entropy,” December 16, 2020.

Galtung , Johan. Theories of Peace: A Synthetic Approach to Peace Thinking . Oslo:

International Peace Research Institute, 1967.

Russell, Bertrand, Tim Sluckin, and Johan Galtung. “Three Approaches to Peace:

Peacekeeping, Peacemaking and Peacebuilding.” In The Impact of Science on Society,

282–304. London: Routledge, 1976.


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