UC Irvine anthropologist Douglas White, a former SFI External Professor, passed away on August 22, 2021. 

White was widely regarded for his research into human relationships, communities, and cultural roles as dynamic, complex networks. He was the co-author or editor of five books; founded and co-chaired the Social Networks Ph.D. at UC Irvine and chaired the Social Dynamics and Complexity research group, and was president of the Social Science Computing Association. Committed to making scientific research open and accessible, White founded two open-access e-journals: World Cultures in 1985, and Structure and Dynamics in 2005.  

Using rigorous mathematical modeling to approach classic anthropological questions of human interactions — particularly regarding kinship, marriage, and divisions of labor — White helped advance the practice of network analysis in anthropology. In the foreword to Network Analysis and Ethnographic Problems; Process Models of a Turkish Nomad Clan, which White co-authored with Ulla Johansen, Andrey Korotayev wrote, “This research is done on the border of the two academic fields: network analysis and ethnography. In doing so, the authors have engaged in an intense and novel collaboration. . . . This brilliant and pioneer study establishes methodology that will be demanded in  Anthropology, History, Political and  Legal Sciences, and Economics. There is reason to believe that it marks the beginning of a whole new stage in the study of dynamic social processes. . .”

In addition to his innovative approaches to human networks, White was admired for the spirit with which he approached his work and colleagues. “Doug was like an architect with his methods looking for ways of unifying structure and rich social observations into network-based frameworks. And he remained skeptical of models and theories that ignored richness in favor of an easy functional intuition,” says SFI President David Krakauer. “I do remember distinctly Doug’s near-infinite curiosity, his sense of radicalism, and his devotion to both his work and to [his family]. All combined with a playfulness all too rare in scholarly life.” 

SFI External Professor Constantino Tsallis who co-authored the 2006 Physical Review E paper, “Generative model for feedback networks” with White, SFI External Professor Doyne Farmer, Natasa Kejzar, and Scott White (Doug’s son), recalls White’s “enthusiasm and warm feelings about new ideas, new intellectual worlds, new people.” He says, “it is a great loss for all of us who had the privilege of knowing him.”

Read White's obituary on the UC Irvine School of Social Sciences' website (September 3, 2021)

View White's publication profile on ResearchGate