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 12: Mobility on Social Landscapes

Graham Room


12.1 INTRODUCTION Social scientists are generously endowed with social survey data, which provide the basis for much of their research and policy advice. With this substantial comparative advantage, there is no need for them to be laggards in the application of dynamic analysis, quite the opposite (Byrne, 1998: Ch. 4). Indeed, it may be that some social scientists are already ‘speaking prose’ – more precisely, investigating society as a complex system – without knowing it and without being appreciated for this by the larger community of complexity science. In this chapter we review the use of social surveys for purposes of social analysis. We are after all concerned here in Part 2 with models and empirical methods; we can hardly avoid assessing existing practices in empirical social enquiry. The techniques we will appraise are moreover those which Byrne highlights, in his pioneering work on complexity and social science, as being of particular interest (Byrne, 1998: 82–5). It is social surveys of households that are most commonly used by sociologists and social policy analysts (although surveys are also of course possible in relation to firms and other organisations, both public and private). Such surveys typically investigate the number, age and gender of the members of the household (demographic characteristics); their skills, occupations and employment; their incomes and assets; their health and housing; their social contacts. The data they furnish as to the social characteristics of populations can be cross-tabulated, to show how these characteristics are distributed and how they change over time...

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