Complexity, Institutions and Public Policy
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Complexity, Institutions and Public Policy

Agile Decision-Making in a Turbulent World

Graham Room

Graham Room argues that conventional approaches to the conceptualisation and measurement of social and economic change are unsatisfactory. As a result, researchers are ill-equipped to offer policy advice. This book offers a new analytical approach, combining complexity science and institutionalism.
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Chapter 2: The Complexity Paradigm

Graham Room


2.1 INTRODUCTION Scientific enquiry is undertaken within communities using shared paradigms. These are, however, always provisional and are liable to be contested, transformed and replaced (Toulmin and Goodfield, 1967; Kuhn, 1970; Toulmin, 1972). Paradigms can be shared across diverse fields of enquiry, albeit they must be adapted to the distinctive features of each scientific niche. Some of those dominant in the natural sciences have shaped social scientific approaches to the analysis of social dynamics. The triumph of Newtonian mechanics encouraged social scientists to look for the conditions of social equilibrium and inertia, even in face of pressures for change. Thermodynamics carried a message of ever-increasing entropy or disorder: much of social science has been an enquiry into hidden sources of order. Darwinian evolution has variously infused (and sometimes confused) social science and its attempts to address development rather than stasis. This sharing of paradigms was not, of course, the only influence on the direction and preoccupations of social scientists; nevertheless, their work required methodological justification and here these natural scientific paradigms were prominent. These influences have not been entirely one-way. The ecology of scientific disciplines reveals them co-evolving, sometimes predatory upon each other but sometimes symbiotic. The last quarter century has seen a noteworthy coming together around a new paradigm of ‘complexity’. One facilitating factor was the establishment of institutes specifically committed to the multi-disciplinary treatment of complex systems, notably that at Santa Fé ( Another was the development and ready availability of computer power, with which complex processes...

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