We do complexity too! Sociology, chaos theory and complexity science

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Alexander, Malcolm
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2009
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Abstract

The 'new science' of complexity and chaos theory has grown rapidly in the last three decades aided enormously by the quantum expansion of computers and computing applications. Responding to the energy and enthusiasm of complexity scientists and publicists, social theorists have assimilated concepts of complexity and its potential impacts on sociological theory and social research. This paper examines the strategic projects of two landmark contributions to the growing literature on complexity theory in the social sciences; the work of David Byrne and Sylvia Walby. I sketch the historical development of complexity science/theory given by Byrne and Walby and identify a narrative around differences between chaos theory and complexity. I argue that both writers successfully translate scientific insights into an accessible complexity theory for sociology. They transfer its metaphors and concepts to concerns, debates and research in sociology and social theory. Each uses complexity thinking to address substantive issues in sociology. Byrnes incorporates chaos/complexity theory into quantitative, survey-based programs for sociological research and theory formation. Walby works more directly with theoretical concepts. She revives, but fundamentally re-conceptualises, systems thinking for social theory. Both writers offer substantively grounded developments of complexity theory that fruitfully connect sociology and the new science of complexity.

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The Future of Sociology
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© The Author(s) 2009. The attached file is reproduced here with permission of the copyright owner for your personal use only. No further distribution permitted. For information about this conference please refer to TASA website or contact the author.
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Social Theory
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