Jacob Foster

I am a PhD student in the Complexity Science Group. I joined the group in August 2006. I am currently supported by an iCORE Graduate Student Scholarship and was elected to a Rhodes Scholarship (Virginia and Balliol) in 2003.  You can find my CV here.

Research interests

High-throughput social science; complex networks; applications of complex systems to the social sciences and humanities; evolutionary dynamics; game theory; narratives and memes; algebraic structures in complex systems; transdisciplinarity.

Social Theory

Sociology has been profoundly influenced by prevailing scientific trends, from physiology and evolution to cybernetics and Bourbakiste abstract algebra. But attempts to apply "chaos" or "complex systems" to sociology have had minimal impact, either failing to engage with the vibrant theoretical tradition in sociology or borrowing only lightly from the rich vocabulary and technical repertoire of complexity science. To the attentive physicist, the sociological tradition speaks a rich language evocative of important contemporary topics, e.g. the use of networks in the work of Norbert Elias or his insistence on a dynamical and recursive model of psycho- and socio-genesis. We are pursuing a long-term transdisciplinary project to develop sociological theory treating society as a complex system while simultaneously allowing it to evolve through interaction with the psychological, normative, and narrative structures of the individuals composing it.

More about me

I am committed to the cultivation and support of interdisciplinary dialogue and transdisciplinary research at the University of Calgary and beyond.  I have found that patient, deep, and respectful conversation among and across many disciplinary perspectives can be extraordinarily stimulating and productive, both in reframing and enriching questions within my current work and in provoking new research directions.  How to create environments conducive to such dialogue is a particular interest -- let's say the ethics, rhetoric and pedagogy of inter- and transdisciplinary work.  I am also involved in several transdisciplinary endeavors, including collaborations with Richard Hawkins' Innovation Lab, Mike Surette's microbiology lab, and Professor Art Frank of the Department of Sociology.

Current projects

  • Analysis of complex networks.  Role of edge direction in determining structural and dynamic properties of networks.  Connection between assortativity, clustering, and community structure.  Please see my publications for more details.
    CollaboratorsPeter GrassbergerMaya Paczuski, and my brother, David Foster
  • Sociological theory from a complex systems perspective.  Reimagining social theory in the 21st century.  Functionalist approach to social networks. Figurational sociology.  Narratives and social theory.  
    CollaboratorArt Frank
  • High-throughput social science, with a special focus on comparative economics in Massively Multiplayer Online Games.  Markets as information processing systems.  Production networks, correlation networks.  
    Collaborators: Richard Hawkins, Maya Paczuski, and David Foster.  
  • Adaptive radiation in bacteria (e.g. Pseudomonas fluorescens). Role of spatial heterogeneity in driving adaptive radiation and niche formation.  Niche construction. 
    Collaborators: Carla Davidson, Maya PaczuskiAmer Shreim, and Mike Surette.


You can find many of my papers on my arXiv author page.

Recent talks

The Meme Factor
Innovation Lab Seminar, University of Calgary, April 2009

Complex Equality & Complex Systems
Invited Class, University of Alberta, March 2009

What is the future of economics?
Complexity Science Group Internal Seminar, March 2009

On Unification in the Behavioral Sciences,
Innovation Lab Seminar, University of Calgary, September 2008

Taking the Avatar Approximation: the Promise and Peril of High-throughput Social Science in Virtual WorldsChallenges & Visions in the Social Sciences, Zurich, August 2008

Dynamic Landscapes: A Model of Context and Contingency in Evolution
Santa Fe Institute Complex Systems Summer School, June 2008

Torture, Terror, and the Undead
Graduate Sociology Conference, University of Calgary, March 2008

Contact information

Office Location:

Science B, Room 504


Department of Physics and Astronomy,
SB 605, University of Calgary
2500 University Drive NW
Calgary, AB
T2N 1N4


PhD Candidate, Physics, August 2006-present
University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada 
Thesis Title: "Network Analysis and Virtual Worlds: Steps to a High-throughput Social Science"
Supervisors: Professor Maya Paczuski and Professor Peter Grassberger
Expected Completion: June 2010

Probationary Research Student/DPhil Candidate, Mathematics, 2003-2006
Supported by the Rhodes Trust
Balliol College, Oxford University, Oxford, UK
Thesis Title: "Before the Beginning: Conformal Invariance and the Eternal Universe"
Supervisor: Professor Sir Roger Penrose

B.S. with Distinction, magna cum laude, physics, 1999-2003
Duke University, Durham, NC, USA
Thesis: "Physics with Two Time Dimensions"
Supervisor: Professor Berndt Mueller

Book reviews

In my free time, I write book reviews for the Oxonian Review of Books:
Einstein's Miraculous Year (Einstein's 1905 papers), edited by John Stachel
World As Laboratory, by Rebecca Lemov
An Inconvenient Truth and the book of the same title, by Al Gore
In the Shadow of the Bomb, by S.S. Schweber

I also wrote a review for The American:
Einstein: His Life and Universe, by Walter Isaacson