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Complexity Theories, Social Theory, and the Question of Social Complexity


Peter Stewart Philosophy of the Social Sciences 2001 31: 323 DOI: 10.1177/004839310103100303 The online version of this article can be found at: http://pos.sagepub.com/content/31/3/323

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PHILOSOPHY Stewart / THE QUESTION OF THE SOCIAL OF SOCIAL SCIENCES COMPLEXITY / September 2001

Complexity Theories, Social Theory, and the Question of Social Complexity


PETER STEWART University of South Africa

In this article, the author argues that complexity theories have limited use in the study of society, and that social processes are too complex and particular to be rigorously modeled in complexity terms. Theories of social complexity are shown to be inadequately developed, and typical weaknesses in the literature on social complexity are discussed. Two stronger analyses, of Luhmann and of Harvey and Reed, are also critically considered. New considerations regarding social complexity are advanced, on the lines that simplicity, complexity that can be modeled, and incondensible complexity permeate society simultaneously. The difficulty of establishing complexity models for processes involving ongoing interpretation is discussed. It is argued that the notions of system and environment need recasting in social studies. Existing social studies and literature, it is argued, reflect a polymorphous, contextual, contingent, labyrinthine, dramatic and political face to social complexity. Students of social complexity must be literate in such studies.

Society is highly complex in certain respects. Why is it, then, that views of society through the lens of complexity theory seem to miss out on much of the complexity, opacity, and particularity of social processes? I must confess to a sense of wonder at the freshness and persuasiveness of the historical and myriad approach to the natural world, which is embodied in the attempt to form new sciences of complexity. It is a new rationality that preserves many unknowns; its mathematics suggests great openness in historical material process. Yet my wonder is not evoked by complexity theories applied to the social world.

Received 30 June 1999 I would like to thank the University of South Africa for a sabbatical grant, which assisted this project, and the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Cambridge for hosting me as a visiting scholar in the middle of 1998, which enabled me to pursue aspects of the project.
Philosophy of the Social Sciences, Vol. 31 No. 3, September 2001 323-360 2001 Sage Publications

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Furthermore, the attempts, serving a variety of interests, to develop theories of the social by now form a huge, partly complementary, partly contradictory heterogeneous field (for overviews, see Turner 1996; Craib 1992; Swingewood 1984; Abraham 1977). Through which gateways do complexity theories enter this teeming citadel? While I will use the terms complexity theory and complexity theories in this article, some authors (e.g., Baker 1993; Kiel and Elliott 1996; Eve, Horsfall, and Lee 1997, foreword) prefer chaos theory as the umbrella term to describe all nonlinear phenomena. However, chaos theory refers to processes that are describable by algebraic formulas (see Cilliers 1998, ix). Certainly determinate chaos (not to mention determinate linearity!) is a recurrent part of complex processes, but mathematical determinism is meaningless with regard to many biological, ecological, and social processes, in my opinion (see also Casti [1993] on this issue; Katzs [1989] notion of incondensable complexity is also relevant here). It seems to me that the main danger of the concept complexity theory is that its users are often preoccupied with systemicity and an organismic model, and the phenomenon of emergence. However, using the resource of algorithmic complexity, complexity may be viewed without the assumption that it all fits and functions together. Theories of nonlinearity would also be an acceptable general term, in my judgment. To explore this topic, this article first considers some definitions of complexity, which are shown to reflect different concerns. It is argued that definitions of social complexity are inadequate, but also that theories of complexity, including social complexity, are here to stay. Then some limitations that recur in the literature on social complexity are examined, and two stronger expositions of dissipative approaches to society are considered. This is followed by an attempt to more adequately outline the particular nature of social complexity by suggesting some principles for the study of social complexity and outlining some social thought that has bearing on considerations of complexity.

WHAT IS COMPLEXITY? The nature of complexity, and especially social complexity, is still very open to debate and further research. Complexity is a matter of perspective or framing (which in our case relates to human intention and interests), level of detail (fine or coarse graining), and the result of perceiving through observation. A small

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stone could be described as a highly complex quantum entity, but it may be simple in terms of its relative chemical inertness on a village path. This echoes Castis (1994, 276-77) argument, in which he argued that a systematic theory of complexity would have to proceed through a theory of models, relating observer to observed. An analytic perspective may frame things to reveal or discount certain details, types of information, and kinds of complexity. Among those committed to the scientific enterprise of making abstract models of configurations of real world items, the choice of items to pattern is somewhat arbitrary and probably a mixture of intuition, insight, historical accident, cultural structure, and even the intrinsic nature of the human nervous system (Katz 1986, 2). More broadly, there are ways of perceiving the world that do not predominantly involve the labor of rationality, observation, and abstraction. For example, aesthetic appreciation involves other factors, as are perceptions structured by the illogic of emotional life. In addition to perceptions influenced or dominated by the unconscious, perceptions in daily life utilize socialized preconscious schemata (Bourdieus habitus) and at times an intuitive intellect, that simple vision to which truth offers itself like a landscape (Pieper 1963, 26). For Ricoeur (cf. 1974, 1986) objectification is a valid but limited mode of understanding, which takes its place as a moment in the imperatives of human becoming and the active encounter with possibility. Once we have a perspective able and willing to see complexity, there are differing definitions of, and approaches to, complexity. This would seem to relate to the fact that there are a variety of disciplinary approaches involved (particularly mathematical, systems-theoretical, cybernetic, and biological), and a variety of problems are being addressed. Aided with computers and new theories, there are attempts to model the origins of life, to model afresh the mechanisms of evolution, and to map the workings of the human brain. A related problem is working out how complex dissipative, autocatalytic, self-organizing, or self-steering entities, including social agents, solve complicated problems. A further problem is that of experienced increases in operational complexityand attendant problemsin modern, technological, mass society (for example, Zolo 1992; Dobuzinskis 1992). And the very issue of transposing mathematical and biological models to society and testing nonlinear mathematical and systems models against various institutions and social processes is itself a problem that will lead to redefinitions of complexity.

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Katz (1986, 1) suggested that irreducible heterogeneity is tantamount to complexity. Formal definitions of complexity fit into two main groups: definitions of algorithmic complexity, deriving largely from computer mathematics; and organizational complexity, deriving from the new biology and a revivified systems theory. The first type of definition relates to issues of calculability and reproducibility and fabrication. Cohen and Stewart (1995, 20) provided a simple version of algorithmic definitions: We may tentatively define the complexity of a system as the quantity of information needed to describe it. A related definitionin the language of pattern theorystates that the complexity of a pattern is the size of the minimal precursor patternthe minimal templetnecessary for its construction (Katz 1986, 76). Katz, with his development of the notion of templets (i.e., specific programs of fabrication) of both biological and random patterns, and Kppers, with his explication of the concept of boundary conditions, advanced the debate on complexity by demonstrating the necessity for explanations of phenomena in which an a priori indeterminable number of microstates is narrowed down to a few biologically relevant ones (Kppers 1995, 105) and in which ephemeral templets without long-term coherence create random phenomena (Katz 1986, 121). In these cases, no general explanations, formulae, or equations can adequately describe the relevant process; explanation must have recourse to the specific causative configuration (such as a particular arrangement of DNA or the particular circumstances that caused a traffic accident), which must in turn be largely explained through their unique history and evolution. Through these unique and specific histories, these processes select a course through unimaginably large sequence spaces. Kppers (1995, 98) mentioned the figure of 102,400,000 microstates in sequence space for the bacterial genome. More modestly, Kauffman (1995, 106) estimated that the state space of the human genomic regulatory system is at least 2100,000 or 1030,000. Comparing these vast numbers to the estimated number of particles in the universeabout 1081, or the less than 1018 seconds in the estimated history of the universe thus far (Poundstone 1987, 100101), we get an index of the importance of the history and the unique structure (the templets or boundary conditions) of particular DNA configurations. It also indicates the importance of structures and processes that produce order within these huge sequence spaces. From this perspective, the explanation of particular physical phenomena requires closing in on local knowledge and broader particular

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knowledge of structural, systemic, and environmental histories and knowledge of the extent of information and means of interpretation. The second type of definition relates to organizational transitions and emergence of new causative parameters. This latter perspective relates to surprising behavior (Nicolis and Prigogine 1989, 8) and its analysis. Coveney and Highfield (1995, 6) also gave an emergent definition: Within science . . . complexity is the study of the behaviour of macroscopic collections of (basic but interacting units) that are endowed with the potential to evolve. This approach explores complexity primarily through the notion of the progressive emergence of far-from-equilibrium dissipative, autopoietic, or self-steering systems in evolutionary space. Increasing complexity is displayed in more complex self-steering forms and in ecosystemic environments (and their logical analogues), which increase in complexity as their component systems coevolve (cf. Kaufmann 1993, 1995). There have been inadequate efforts to clarify what type of complexity, or what types of complexities, occur at the social level. However, there have been many attempts. For example, La Porte (1975, 6) argued that the degree of complexity in organized social systems . . . is a function of the number of system components . . . , the relative differentiation or variety of these components . . . , and the degree of interdependence among these components. To this line of argument, Zolo (1992, 3-4) added the dimensions of instability or turbulence of the environment and . . . the tendency of its variables to change along swift or unpredictable trajectories and the state of cognitive circularity reached by agents who become aware of the high level of the complexity in their own environment. From the perspective of one humanities discipline, Sambrook and Whiten (1997) argued that (at least for the behavioral and cognitive sciences) organizational complexity is often more relevant than algorithmic complexity because the latter views random events as highly complex. They argued that the number of levels of organization in a system (for instance, the number of hidden layers in a neural net or the number of levels of reciprocal anticipation in one animals strategy toward another) is a truer reflection of complexity. It is this deep, rather than broad, form of complexity in problem solving that merits the greatest attention (p. 204). Similarly, Khalil (1995, 430) argued that while some social phenomenasuch as mob behaviorcan be analyzed through models of nonlinear dynamics such as chaos and catastrophe theories and dissipative structures, the development of institutions and the organization of labor resemble the evolution of

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species and biological organization, rather than the discontinuity of ecosystems or chaotic structures. Luhmann, while using criteria such as differentiation and unpredictability in his descriptions of complexity, also used complexity in an existential way: complexity is a problem, and people need to be shielded from the immense complexity and contingency of all the things which could be deemed possible (1986, 16). Luhmann distinguished this immense complexity of the world from a lesser but increasingly problematic complexity produced by social systems and their interrelations; it is this latter complexity that Luhmann wrote about, with a pronounced organismic characterization of this social system (see, for example, his Ecological communication [1989]). Casti (1994) believed that an integrated science of complexity is some way away and would depend on taking complexity debates beyond ordinary language and formalizing the symbols and syntax of an appropriate logical system that is also responsive to the subjective nature of complexity. This in turn would depend on a much more ambitious program of creating a theory of models (pp. 277-78). However, it seems that Casti was referring to the subjectivity of perspective and scale rather than to the subjectivity of mode of perception, symbolic representation, and partisan interests, which might be more difficult to incorporate into a formal system. There would seem to be a need for openness, clarity, and further work, as regards a definition of complexity, and doubly so when it comes to social complexity. For example, as I argue below, many are highly skeptical as to the usefulness of portraying society as a whole as a self-regulating system; yet many definitions of complexity are geared only to considering single self-regulating systems.

COMPLEXITY THEORIES ARE HERE TO STAY The whole area of determinate chaos, general nonlinearity, and the emergence of order through organizational complexity is a very refreshing and suggestive development within the natural sciences, and this development engenders far-reaching debates in many areas of knowledge. The province of natural science has been extended: Theories of chaotic and complex systems have made it clear, even more than before, that a naturalistic explanation may be available, even in the absence of predictability (Drees 1995, 223). By virtue of the new domain of objects open to research (namely, artificial net-

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works simulating intelligence and the evolutionary emergence of order, natural systems displaying order, and empirical nonlinear outcomes suggesting either determinate chaos or simply deviation from a linear model), and by virtue of the availability of new toolsprimarily the computer and specific software programsthis broad field of research is destined to continue and grow. Particularly because of the relevance of evolving neural nets and genetic algorithms to the advance of artificial intelligence (AI), and the relevance of this to increasingly dominant informational capital, investment in some complexity research is assured. In a variety of other disciplinary contexts, too, aspects of these new theories are being used to good effect. For example, in the area of environmental studies, especially global environmental studies, systems models and models of self-regulation are proving fruitful (Odum 1993; Rambler, Margulis, and Fester 1989). Authors such as MacNeill, Winsemius, and Yakushiji (1991) and Norgaard (1994) endeavor to show how the worlds economy and ecology act as a single far-from-equilibrium system. Futures research has also made use of the debates over complex systems. The enthusiasm for complexity theory has led to new subdisciplines and to a large academic and popular literature.1 Popular accountsand reputable scientists accountsof complexity theory have often provided confident but avowedly speculative models of how these new perspectives in mathematics and systems theory might apply to society.2 There also have been an increasing number of attempts to use the conceptsand sometimes the cosmologyof complexity theories for social analysis.3 There are studies of more quantifiable phenomena such as patterns of voting, purchasing behavior, pavement avoidance strategies, and club membership. Paradoxically, these investigations are rather simple processes with a bit of a twist; they involve fairly easy questions of quantification; they relate to rule-bound behavior and situations with low levels of personal interaction. There have also been studies of more general processes, such as arms races, regime collapses, childrens friendships, and self-organizing cities (Portugali 1997; Kiel and Elliot 1996; Eve, Horsfall, and Lee 1997).

THE HORIZONS OF SOCIAL COMPLEXITY THEORY I would like to focus on four weaknesses that recur in the literature. First, there are those who attempt to use complexity theory in alliance

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with systems theory as a general and dominant metatheory for the social sciences. Second, the myth that all or most social processes can usefully be quantified in mathematical terms persists. Third, the metabiological, organicist (and organismic) model of social systems is often used uncritically. Last, theories of social complexity are parented by a limited range of social philosophies that are each subject to ongoing social debate. Complexity As Metatheory Some writers attempt to use the discourse of complexity theory as a social science metatheory, often coupled with a rhetoric of a new paradigm. This is most explicit in the popular literature (for example, the work of Capra), but it is also current in the academic literature. Turner (1997, xxvii) claimed,
Social science . . . has until now been forced to use logical and mathematical instruments originally designed to deal with much simpler systems . . . . But the essays in this book are the first fruits of an approach that is as appropriate to social science as calculus is to the study of motion, or as non-Euclidian geometry was to relativistic physics.

Kenyon De Greene (1996, 273-74) argued heatedly against social approaches developed during simpler times and argued for their replacement by paradigms which are better suited to the evolutionary situation. If these theories act as perturbations and fluctuations, driving a restructure of social science, and if they help to generate new paradigm thinking, then the future can indeed be promising (p. 292). It is my contention that, in many cases, the use of complexity theory as a paradigmatic horizon has led to a reductionism in social studies and, furthermore, that this reductionism relates to lack of expertise in the field they are entering. This reductionism is not because human society does not display innumerable signs of nonlinearity, high complexity, emergence, and autopoietic systems: it does. The reductionism is because we already know quite a lot about the autopoietic system known as a woman or manand we know immediately that the nature of this system involves knowns and unknowns of history, language, family, personality, ideology, and education; and we know that there may be factors that cannot be identified in advance. Complexity theories have developed mainly within specific natural science fields. There is an innate (though not necessarily infertile) reductionismand sometimes clumsinessin bringing the method-

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ologies and models from one discipline or skill into another, if this is not done in dialogue and interaction with the existing disciplinary debate. To take one example, in a seminal . . . brilliant essay (according to Francis 1993), Baker (1993) endeavored to delineate an attractor for the social world that would explain chaos and order in society. In a discourse that portrays itself as anti-Newtonian yet scientific, and which is colored with naturalist images such as the Mandelbrot set and gypsy moths, Baker advanced the idea that
in the coming and going of . . . social relationships, an attractor is discernable that emerges repeatedly, as in the Mandelbrot set. This dynamic phenomenon creates the turbulence and recreates the order in social life, and its pattern is redolent of autopoesis [sic] and dissipation. It is that of centre-periphery . . . . Individuals, families, communities, villages, companies and societies attempt to center their world and control the flow of energy and information through it. . . . The centre has an entropic effect on the periphery, causing increased randomness and increasing amounts of unusable resources. (Pp. 135-36, 139)

This is an interesting if speculative idea, which clearly relates to sociological debates about power; Baker (1993) did not take up these debates. Instead, he related it both to dependency theorists accounts of center and periphery in the worlds political economy and to the ideas of some anthropologists on the nature of human action and perception. However, in discussing dependency theory, Baker stayed with those theorists of the 1970s and 1980s who confirmed his views without recognizing the subsequent debate around dependency theory and the eventual unviability of dependency theory in its classic formthe form he drew on.4 Similarly, Baker used a couple of anthropological sources to justify sweeping statements about human action and interpretation. As with the issue of dependency theory, Baker used reputable sources (George Herbert Mead and Berger and Luckmann, for example) but, again, these theorists represent one corner of the debate. Bourdieus account of the constraints imposed by habitus, for example, gave a significantly less volitionary picture of human action and symbolization from that of Berger and Luckmann.5 At another level, human action no longer can be explained without recourse to the psychoanalytical debatea debate that is extremely wide. In Freud and Beyond, Mitchell and Black (1995) traced the huge array of strands of psychoanalytic thought in the Freudian tradition alone. What psychological theory should accompany social analysis? Should it be the avant-garde psychoanalysis of Lacan or more clini-

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cally pragmatic approaches such as the recent work of Andr Green (e.g., Green 1986) and the object relations school? My point is simply this: without recourse to the specificities of the relevant social fields, and without engagement in the full debates concerning the fields, a theorist is in a weak position to make major generalizations. The concepts and the poetic imaginary of complexity theories may indeed at times throw light on social process; however, whether Bakers notion of center-periphery unveils a universal social attractor must be determined by social debates and research rather than by complexity metatheory. Reality Is Mathematical Reality is mathematical, averred Aulin (1989, 313). Complexity may be defined as a set of deterministic theories that do not necessarily lead to long-term prediction (Saperstein 1997, 105). This mathematical horizon, if rigidly maintained in the social field, leads to a positivism of numerical and spatial relationships. One version of the exaggeration of the significance of social phenomena that are best described through mathematics is demonstrated contained in some cruder exponents of chaos theory. A number of theorists, dominated by the image of chaotic processes, wrongly infer that the unpredictability of real-world events is predominantly due to processes of deterministic chaos entering into deterministic systems due to small random disturbances from outside the model in question (Saperstein 1997, 121). Chaotic processes in practice may be unpredictable, and it is often impractical to give a mathematical account of the result of a combination of chaotic processes. But the world may be unpredictable and difficult to account for mathematically for other reasons. Social contexts have particular physical histories, environmental histories, and human histories, which together produce a unique set of boundary conditions in each context; add to this the boundary conditions created by actual people attempting to act reflexively on aspects of the context. The heterogeneous set of boundary conditions shaping real-world contexts is best described through codes or discourses that are able to retrieve aspects of these contextual histories or, to state it differently, that are able to retrieve the templets of the boundary conditions themselves. Eve (1997, 274-75) used the analogy of a car with chaotic physical processes being controlled by a sentient

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driver to hypothesize that most of the structure in society represents human attempts to monitor deviations and minimize chaotic outcomes. However, many factors concerning neither chaotic outcomes of given systems nor reflexive control of these chaotic outcomes will affect the progress of a car. Its safety may be enhanced by the historical phenomena of solar radiation and gravity. The Toyota templet and the system of roads and road signs as used on the journey will have material effects. The phone call giving an address received before setting out might be best represented through speech analysis, the psychology of sexual fantasy, and a city map. The drunk driver approaching is also sentient in a fashion, but the outcome of his approachlargely determined by the drivers steering and accelerationwill have contingent effects that may be more influential than chaotic processes. Chaos theory also relies on variables that are determinate and rigorously definable in relation to each other. How can this deal with phenomena such as the equipment for a childrens game, or the growth of middle-class narcissismphenomena that take form within linguistic fields, emotional imaginaries, academic debates, and the ebb and flow of social struggle? While chaos theory can indicate the route to postpositivism, it is of little use among phenomena that are symbolically constituted. Social Systemicity Theories of complex systems, while thriving on many-leveled diversity, have a great weakness when applied to society, insofar as the society as a whole is regarded as a complex system with its own autopoietic strategy and exerting downward causation. This systemic conception of society has a history in sociological thought, a history that reached a culmination in the later Parsons functionalism (see Swingewood 1984, 236 ff.; also Parsons 1977, 177-203). Yet this conception is greatly contested. While Parsonian functionalism still enjoys some support, for example in the work of Luhmann and also among those allied to neofunctionalism (see Alexander 1985, 1995; Mnch and Smelser 1987), the criticism of the idea of an overall, coherent social system is strong. Giddens, for example, used the term social system in a more dispersed manner: some societies may be more systematic than others; there are intersocietal systems; and we must drop the biological and physical images of system (1984, 163 ff.). Bourdieu said his notion of a field

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excludes functionalism and organicism: the products of a given field may be systematic without being the products of a system, and especially of a system characterized by common functions, internal cohesion, and self-regulationso many postulates of systems theory that must be rejected. (Bourdieu and Wacquant 1992, 103).

Lyotard (1984, 12) believed that the idea of society as a unified totality is a case of what Horkheimer called the paranoia of reason. Yet more polemically, Laclau and Mouffe (1985, 111) argued that Society is not a valid object of discourse. There is no underlying principle fixingand hence constitutingthe whole field of differences. By virtue of their organicist ideas, a large proportion of writers on social complexity take what can be regarded as a weak position in social theory. This, however, does not deny the validity of investigating whether particular social systems are genuinely self-regulating. Horizons of Social Complexity Theory within Social Philosophy The bulk of writing on social complexity is decidedly limited in its relation to socially relevant philosophical traditions such as phenomenology, hermeneutics, psychoanalysis, and modernist retrieval of lived experience in a devastated world (cf. Taylor 1989, 456 ff.). As complexity approaches enter social debates, they have allied themselves with a variety of cultural positions (New Age discourse, managerial strategy) philosophical positions (realism, Marxism, antipositivism, poststructuralism), sociological theories (systems theories, evolutionary approaches), religious traditions (primarily Eastern and mystical traditions), and political positions (democracy, environmentalism, and Machiavellianism). At the same time, interests within these social fields have incorporated aspects of the new theories as tools of their own strategies. However, exponents of complexity theories have predominantly identified themselves with a narrower grouping of philosophical approaches. Taken together as a single grouping, writings on complexity theory sit unsteadily astride two traditionally antagonistic philosophic traditions: instrumentalism and enlightenment naturalism.6 On both counts, however, complexity theory is a child of the enlightenment and carries with it some of the baggage of Westerncentrism.7 At the same time, at a less theorized level, many proponents of complexity theory seem to be using complexity theory as a weapon

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against positivism and instrumentalism in social science. In orthodox statistical approachesstill strong in the United Statescomplexity is acceptably hidden in less-than-perfect correlations and the logocentrism8 and nominalism of the categories employed. Much of the interest in complexity theory in the social sciences is in reaction to these approaches. For people reacting in this way, complexity theory is a sword for dealing with conventional statistics, behaviorism, and the culture of Newtonianism and, instead, acknowledging unpredictability and the contingency of analysis and decisions (Dobuzinskis 1992; Allen 1994; OConnor 1994; Hansson 1996; and more tentatively, Back 1997). This broad antipositivism is compatible with a wide variety of social science traditions. On the instrumentalist side, complexity theories are parented by mathematics and biology, the new ideas are used to inform managerial technique, neural nets can be used to inform estate agents of optimum prices for properties, fractal techniques can encode video information in less digital space, and some professional careers in biology and mathematics are sustained by these new theoretical explorations. In addition, a large number of the writers in the field see themselves as scientists; Back (1997, 39, 50) saw complexity theory as the latest in a maturing series of attempts to improve the traditional statistical model while working within the general paradigm of a science which uses the language of mathematics for its ideal expression. This series of attempts includes gestalt and field theory, continuing through sociometry, information theory, game theory, catastrophe theory, and fuzzy sets to the current impact of chaos and complexity theories. Accounts in natural science of complexity are within the framework of the reductionistic research program, in which limitations with regard to our physical understanding of living things . . . are attributed exclusively to the material complexity of the phenomena under consideration (Kppers 1995, 93). In this respect, complexity theories are much closer to the Western tradition of instrumentalism and disengaged reason (Taylor 1989, 495 ff.) than they are to the reaction to instrumentalism embodied in the romantic and modernist traditions, which generally draw on a much richer conception of human nature, which has an inner dimension (Taylor 1989, 496). Yet, complexity theories also have connections with a different enlightenment traditionthat of naturalism. In this tradition, the goodness and significance of nature is affirmed (Taylor 1989, 343), in opposition to dualist religious and philosophical thought. Enlighten-

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ment naturalism has variously been systematically materialist, on the side of ordinary life and the release of the stultified powers of nature and desire (Taylor 1989, 343), and in reverential awe of physical order (Taylor 1989, 347 ff.). The popular science writings of Capra (1983) and Laszlo (1996) are cases of enlightenment naturalism, tilting at dualism and affirming what the authors believed to be spiritualities in accord with naturalism.9 Stuart Kauffman (1995, 304) quoted himself : If one cannot find spirituality, awe and reverence in the unfolding, one is nuts. For others, a realist version of naturalism links well with Marxism (see, for example, Reed and Harvey 1992; Harvey and Reed 1996; Owen 1996; Krieglstein 1990). Harvey and Reeds (1996) model is discussed below.

DISSIPATIVE MODELS ROOTED IN THE SOCIAL SCIENCES The Case of Niklas Luhmann In the rush of popular complexity literature since the mid-1980s, there was a strong sense of novelty, such that the links of complexity theory to traditions such as systems theory were often obscured. Niklas Luhmann is a major (if much disputed) German social theorist who has synthesized the tradition of systems theory as utilized by Talcott Parsons with cybernetics, with an autopoietic understanding of systems, and with a perspective of the phenomenological disclosure of meaning (Bednarz 1989, viii). Thus, Luhmann has a distinct position from other writers on social complexity not only as regards status and output (already in 1989 he had 6,000 pages in print in German [Bernadz 1989, vii]) but also as regards his synthesis of emerging ideas of systems with existing social science traditions and philosophies. In this regard, Luhmann can be seen as more advanced or further immersed in the problematics of social science than many writers on social complexity.10 His work can be seen in part as a development of the functionalist theories of Parsonswhose later writings drew strongly on systems theory and a metabiological characterization of society.11 Parsonss social theory, whatever its limitations, was deeply influenced by other theorists of the first half of the twentieth century particularly Weber, Durkheim, and Freud.12 Parsonss and Luhmanns roots in interlinked sociological traditions and debates distinguish them from much current writing on complexity theory, which is

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often devoid of social theory or at best tentatively explores the links between complexity and a given theory. A further difference is that Luhmanns work has been visible for several decadesespecially in Germanyand there have been sustained evaluations of his work by other social theorists such as Habermas. Luhmanns writing, and the critiques of this writing, must to some extent inform any systematic debate on social complexity. Yet, Luhmanns writings are still relatively unknown in the current Anglo-American popularization of complexity theory, and critical evaluations of Luhmann seem to be completely unknown in these circles.13 Luhmann, from a systematic systems-theoretical perspective, started from the premise that society signifies the all-encompassing social system of mutually referring communications and from the premise that for any system the environment is more complex than the system itself (1989, 7, 11). For Luhmann, the social system, as the system of communication, and a variety of shifting social subsystems, are naturalistic autopoietical systems struggling for survival within a general scheme of evolution; these systems exist in a world that is overwhelmingly complex for every kind of real system (1979, 6). Systems tend to increase their own complexity to reduce the complexity of their environment. The environment of a social system includes social systems and subsystems outside itself, the natural environment, and those parts of human life that are not socially effective communication: even the consciousness of psychical systems belongs to the environment of the societal system (1989, 29). The societal system thus encompasses all large-scale and public processes, institutions, and discourses (as filtered through the lens of communication) and tends to exclude aspects of the immediate lifeworld14 and, I think, elements of the labor process and the economic system. Luhmanns work covers a very wide variety of themes, as various as the welfare state and the systemic difficulties of democracy, a systems view of the functionality of love, and the problematic relation between the societal system and the natural environment. 15 Luhmanns theory is today incomparable when it comes to its powers of conceptualization, its theoretical imaginativeness, and its capacity for processing information (Habermas 1987b, 354). Luhmanns theory has come into a fair amount of criticism. Habermas, who is the current social theorist of major standing who has most engaged with Luhmanns work, while acknowledging Luhmanns opus as a competitive philosophical paradigm (1992, 22), perceived an objectifying effect . . . to the extent that systems

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theory penetrates into the lifeworld, introducing into it a metabiological perspective from which it then learns to see itself as a system in an environment with other systems-in-an environment (1987b, 384). Habermas saw Luhmanns theory as a subtle recasting, through the aid of cybernetic theory, of the Western tradition in which we understand ourselves in terms of objects (1987b, 384). Luhmanns systems functionalism is actually based on the assumption that in modern societies the symbolically structured lifeworld has already been driven back into the niches of a systematically selfsufficient society and been colonized by it (1987a, 312)a historical assessment with which Habermas had considerable disagreement. Luhmanns theory separates out the undercomplex lifeworld as an indigestible residueprecisely the realm of phenomena of a social theory that has not burned all bridges to the prescientific experience of crisis (1987b, 354). Luhmann in fact has been subjected to fairly sharp criticism from a number of writers. Ulrich Beck is another German theorist of modernity who drew on the work of Luhmann, and both have written books on risk in modern societies. However, Becks book is the classic text on the risk society, and Beck is generally critical of Luhmanns social analysis.16 My principal point here is this: by virtue of his integration into the field of social theory and social research, Luhmann (as with Parsons before him) becomes subject to complex debates not necessarily involving complexity theory or systems theory. This, too, is the fate of current writings on social complexity. Harvey and Reeds Realist Model Harvey and Reed (1996; Reed and Harvey 1992) were predominantly concerned with using theories of dissipative systems to justify a realist approach that sustains the particularity and plurality of the social world while preserving rational canons of scientific understanding (Harvey and Reed 1996, 297). They treated whole societies, or nations, or modes of production (it is not clear), as dissipative social systems. They did not discuss whether components within these macro systems, such as institutions or individuals, might also be seen as dissipative systems; rather, a structural analytic model was presented that attempted to show levels of increasing complexity encompassed within the social system. Harvey and Reed did this by mapping research strategies onto the objects or processes to which they are applied (Harvey and Reed 1996, 307-9 ff.). Thus, while the

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refraction of sunlight may be subjected to predictive or statistical modeling, processes of cultural and class struggle require the more indeterminate modeling strategy of historical narrative. The authors used this argument to assert that social systems consist of nested and emergent levels of increasing complexity. The higher levels (requiring historical narrative) incorporate processes in which humans subjectively define themselves and their actions; at the same time, these levels, I infer, were for Harvey and Reed (1996) a prime source of the indeterminacy through which the dissipative social system is chaotically driven. Harvey and Reed (1996) argued that there is a natural fit between complexity theories and realist and Marxist philosophy. In some ways this is persuasive: it can be argued that Marxism as a materialism is a form of naturalism and, following Bhaskar (1979, 3), that an essentially realist view of science can be the foundation for a qualified antipositivist naturalism (see also Bhaskar 1978). Harvey and Reeds (1996) model is in many respects a strong one. This is partly because the model is rooted in two strong (though currently contested and relativized) traditions: philosophical realism and Marxism. Second, through the notion of emergent epistemological levels, the model allows realist social science to switch to less deterministic methodologies, such as those including narrative elements. Issues of high complexity are dealt with neatly through the notions of emergence and levels. Harvey and Reeds scheme sanctions a wide variety of social science methodologies; their argument can connect with many existing social science debates and acknowledge a wide, heterogeneous number of studies that may have validity and usefulness. It should be noted that Harvey and Reeds model suggests that a realist complexity perspective ordains that there are levels of society not describable through mathematics or the cybernetic modeling on which current complexity theories depend. The model also suggests itself as a provisional tool to clarify issues of practical research methodology. Harvey and Reeds (1996) model can be debated from a number of angles. First, there are extensive debates over realist and Marxist epistemologies; and, if there is a natural fit between realism and theories of complexity, criticisms of realism might affect these complexity theories. We enter a much wider debate here. For example, Michael Dummett (1996) eventually advocated subtle realism as the most defensible philosophy, and writers such as Richard Rorty and Richard Bernstein (e.g., Bernstein 1983) argued for pragmatic rather than rig-

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orously realist approaches to society. There is an ongoing British debate on realism involving figures such as Bhaskar, Rom Harr, and William Outhwaite (Blomley 1998). Second, the ontological levels suggested by Harvey and Reed (1996) are rather arbitrary. These are levels relating to the intrinsic limits of the various strategies of modeling social phenomena. They do say that it is the ontological structure of the dissipative social system . . . (and) the systemic and emergent nature of the ontological levels (p. 322), rather than their particular descriptions, that is nonnegotiable. However, their choice of levels, which they synthesized from the work of Kenneth Boulding and Neil Smelser, suggests an overly abstract and structuralist social theory, variously Marxist and functionalist. Starting with the most simple category, that of determinate regularities of the physical universe, Harvey and Reed associated this only with predictive and statistical modeling; clearly, however, the phenomenon of chaos is also closely associated with iconographic modelling as in computer graphics, as Harvey and Reed themselves said later (p. 318). Their third level, that of the ecological organization of the local biotic community, might on occasion require Harvey and Reeds most abstract modeling strategy, that of historical narrative. Through what other strategy does one describe the toxic marsh left by a departed factory or the extinction of the dinosaurs? The middle ontological levels, some of which can be modeled statistically and some not, consist of facilities, roles, norms, and values. The highest, most complex levels are those of class struggle (and) conflict over cultural hegemony and societal evolution via historical modes of production. To me, these levels are extremely arbitrary. Why should the allocation of roles, for example, constitute an ontological level? Why are these functionalist concepts of midcentury social science and productivist Marxism used, rather than levels established by some criterion of complexity? This could relate to levels of connectivity, which might assign mass society a lower aggregate connectivity and complexity than a family or commune, and which is likely to place many human-made systems on a lower level of complexity than natural ecosystems. And why, at the top, is there mode of production to the exclusion of military, bureaucratic, and industrial regime (cf. Giddens 1981, 1987, 26 ff.; Foucault 1967, 1979)? I think there is a logic behind Harvey and Reeds (1996) categories, and it relates to my last line of criticism: that of their implied organi-

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cism and overreification of systemicity. Harvey and Reed used the notion of system uncritically and with considerably less subtlety than did Luhmann, for example. The concepts used (norms, roles) can be seen as levels of function in a system rather than as emergent phenomena in their own right. The typology of ontological levels used by Harvey and Reed serves the notion of whole system, trading on the modernist notion of social system, possibly in the sense of nationstate. Albrow (1996, 119 ff.) argued persuasively against the notion of the nation-state as coherent system in the global age. If Harvey and Reed are rather referring to transnational systems such as modes of production, the population of such systems is far too small to justify the risky strategies of far-from-equilibrium evolution. Their typology works against the dimensions of social process that relativize systemic elements, both in human experience and in historical outcomes. Rather, social heterogeneity is seen in functionalist terms: everything is captured in the adaptive searches of the far-from-equilibrium social system.

TOWARD A POSITIONING OF SOCIAL COMPLEXITY Simplicity, complexity that can be modeled, and incondensible complexity permeate all areas and levels of society simultaneously, though in an irregular fashion. For this reason, complexity models, while having validity for some analytic tasks, cannot substantially account for the events and particularities of the social world. The whole issue of social complexity needs to be rethought without assumptions of systemicity and without a laboring of levels. Unsystematic process and communication should be included, and resources from social theory and social studies should be more fully used. In the paragraphs that follow, I use a complexity perspective to attempt to flesh out arguments limiting the role of complexity theories as regards society and to justify a perspective that sees roles for finite rationality and nonlinear modeling as well as encounter, practical immersion, and silence with regard to material and symbolic high complexity. The argument is then brought closer to social studies with paragraphs initiating a discussion on how complexity is reflected in social studies not inspired by complexity theories.

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Basic Principles for the Study of Social Complexity The Human Horizon The world in which we live is largely knowable by people. This is partly because we are evolutionarily adapted to be of an appropriate size and metabolic pace and to have mechanisms and horizons of perception broadly in tune with our natural and human-made environment. We can bracket many high complexities that are below thresholds of response or that do not affect the net outcomes of mass process. At the same time, we appropriate and encounter the world in a specifically human way. Ordinary language is clearly deeply involved with and adapted to the complexities of the physical and social world while simultaneously eliciting nonobjective modes of presencing and expression. An account of ordinary languageand more specialist languages should be given that shows how an undoubtedly complex, heterogeneous, and multifarious social realm can often be described and referred to, to peoples satisfaction. Language has evolved with the ability to reflect, model, symbolize, effectively bracket, and occlude nonlinearity, complex systems, and heterogeneous dysfunction. Untraceable Causative Templets Each situation and happening has (at the level of a thought experiment) a full explanation or templet that involves material and symbolic-communicative histories that instantiate themselves in the situation or happening. Some of this history may be retraced, along with some of the structure of organic or organizational templets (DNA, McDonalds franchises), but large parts of the causative templet are irretrievable: some parts are lost in the past; others are lost in current ephemeral processes; and in general, processes are forced through the lenses of human semiotic, especially linguistic, interpretation, in which the battle for complete templeting is given up from the start in favor of tolerance of high complexity, approximation, and the construction of physical, psychological, and discursive zones of relative order.

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The Terrain of Particularity Society is revealed as susceptible to useful description, yet, where describable, it is endlessly instantiated in particulars that do not follow from generalities. Evolution differentiates forth massive particularities; it is largely this particularity that is in evidence to people. These particularitiessighs, flagella movements, clouds, the slaughter that occurred in that Rwandan churchall have greatly complex origins in an absolute analytical sense. At this level of particularity, which is also the level of continual reinstantiation of effective histories, the world can be seen as reasonably definitive. This is because evolutionary differentiation of matter and life produces more and more refined particularities, massive events (i.e., highly improbable differential sectorization of matter, energy, and pattern), and persistent structures. Massive inert forms and life also both display sometimes excessive regularities within their particular history (such as birdsong or the rhythm of the tides). Our ecosystems are interplays among physical regularity, fairly stable forms, and entirely ephemeral interactions. In addition to this, human-made objects, systems, and discourses also have simple aspects to them. As a result of this, together with our prejudice in favor of particular comprehensibility, meaningful propositional references can be made to a huge range of phenomena, and useful analytic and modeling processes can be pursued, including many of reducible complexity. Incondensible Complexity At the same time, especially at the level of the social, but also at the level of particular environmental conjunctures, this largely orderable terrain is bathed in processes of incondensible complexity (Katz 1989).17 Many zones within society, and shifting zones within society, contain processes that are in practice incalculable; and a proportion of such processes are in principle incalculable. Where there is a high number of types of connection in a network, as in an organic social group; and where high numbers of variable influences all condition an outcome, such as some utterances; and where contingency is high, as when you turn a foreign corner, processes of high, sometimes maximally high, complexity will be common. This situation, aided and

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abetted by ignorance, lack of information, and nonobjectifying practices produces the regular newness that we constantly map onto our days structure; it produces experiences of freshness, alienation, and oddity; it provides the chaotic environment to which institutions must respond; it provides the playground for human processes of symbolization that do not objectivize. However, the phenomena from which we organize experiences are, in terms of objectified material process, largely at a level of incondensible complexity. This is doubly so when human interpretation influences material process. Our familiarity with this situation is reflected in our energy for new experiences, news, and the expectation that our daily life, while usually occurring within bounded sets such as an institutional framework, will nevertheless have the character of unpredictable process of unfolding of particularity. Eminently describable processes, such as the growth of a plant, might have the appearance of too complicated for analysis and be characterized through rudimentary conventions and aesthetics; the same might apply to ignorant views of complicated interinstitutional feedback effects. However, once one can establish even some of the causes of a situation, its complexity can to that extent be characterized, and possibly condensed, depending on the relation of what is known to what is unknown. Rational knowledge may extend the province of that which can be analyzed, modeled, and predicted; however, in all real situations, theoretically reducible and incondensible elements coexist. Incondensible elements can be at least associated with fleeting and highly local events and detail; with discourse shaping itself in relation to immediately prior discourse; and with the totality of events, processes, and interactions in a given situation. Areas and processes of informational high complexity, or incondensible complexity and hermeneutic or mathematical indeterminism, should be identified and left to other discourses and methodologiesprincipally in the forms of narrative and interpretation (cf. Harvey and Reed 1996)and also to silence and aesthetic reception. Unquantifiable Phenomena There are types of human process that have large domains that cannot be meaningfully quantified. Consider, for example, biographical accounts, aesthetic experience (despite Bourdieus Distinction [1986],

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in which Bourdieu, while convincingly demonstrating how taste is implicated in social hierarchies, does not deal with the aesthetic part enjoyment and understanding of the communication of the singular), and the evolution of public affairs as reflected in news. In general, processes in which the objects concerned are necessarily reconstituted afresh through symbolic and interpretive means, through discourse and debate, such as the interpretation of music or the nature of a marriage proposal, any interpretation, including mathematical and structuralist ones, must participate in the symbolic reconstitution of the object. In this situation, the categories or units of quantification in mathematical terms can dissolve and decohere with a fresh reconstitution of the object. Complexityas relations between measurable objectsmay be bracketed from a phenomenological perspective, to which it is evident that observation, analysis, and synthesis are not the only modes of perception. The work of Alfred Schutz is an example of this (see also Craibs [1992, 97 ff.] discussion of phenomenological sociology). Social phenomena may be constituted and received by feeling, dreaming, experiencing, remembering and forgetting, and not simply knowing (Halton 1995, 273). The elucidation of certain modes of experience, interpretation, and action can be done through the (perhaps temporary) suspension of the objectivizing gaze and by following the imaginary of the lifeworld. This sort of approach may have great validity while not immediately engaging with phenomena, including nonlinearities, which can be mathematically defined or objectively modeled. The phenomena they deal with are not always usefully measurable, moreover. Complexities in this dimension are better appreciated through hermeneutic approximations, through narrative, and to some extent through postmodern discourses of alterity and difference, of singularities and the unpresentable. The Social Reduction of Complexity If the immediate lifeworld of experience and action is too complex to manifest overall pattern, the orderly aspects of society could be sought in factors that reduce complexity. Theorists such as Luhmann and Zygmunt Bauman argue that institutions and systems of society are devices of simplification and order. Any system of successfully applied rules at least at one level reduces complexity; and factors such as distance, deprivation, and isolation may also reduce the connectivity of society. If so, mass societies with large populations will have

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lower average connectivity among individuals and groups than a small society or social grouping, other things being equal, and thus have a lower and more manageable level of complexity. Furthermore, the homeostatic devices most people have for screening information; finding visual, logical, and aesthetic form; and building a biography may be a significant source of order, as may be shared systems of rules, while the vicissitudes of the psyche and the stochastic process of daily life and encounter may work against this homeostasis. There are undoubtedly surprising features of society that reflect mathematically describable nonlinearitiesor even linearities. A proportion of the literature on complexity has already embarked on studies in this area, in a manner that is sensitive to the horizons of this approach. Contingent Systems, Society As Environment While nonlinearity is a safe (but often valueless) bet in the social field, there must be no assumption of systemicity, let alone autopoiesis, beyond the evidence and informed interpretation. As against Harvey and Reeds account of a hierarchical and ultimately unified social structure and process, I would argue for more contingent, yet analytically accessible, concepts. For example, using the work of Bourdieu and others, John Thompson saw social-historical analysis as consisting of the analysis of spatio-temporal settings; fields of interaction in which individuals draw on rules, capitals, and habituated practical schemata; institutions as relatively stable clusters of rules and resources, and social structure as relatively stable asymmetries (in) social institutions and interaction . . . in terms of the distribution of, and access to, resources, power, opportunities and life chances (Thompson 1990, 281-83). At the same time, bearing in mind the fairly systematic features of many societies, including preindustrial societies, and the growth of formidable economic and political systems under industrialism, and with the knowledge that human economy is one component of the global ecosystem, systemic perspectives should be retainedbut as hypotheses, in need of empirical and theoretical justification. Societies are more usefully seen as forms of containing environmental systems rather than as organismic systems. There is scope for modeling societies and social processes as loose environmental systems with low systemic requirements and great redundancy, which allow huge varieties of social forms and diversity of local situations; and providing an arena for experimentation, cooperation, and conflict

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although within certain basic boundaries of subsistence, environmental balance, and order, for example. A complexity model of enduring social institutions and other apparently dissipative human-made social phenomena could be developed. This model should take into account the cultured nature (in the horticultural sense) of many social institutions; it may be that individuals and groups may simulate a self-steering institution in the hope that it will persist and grow; even market economies have been artificially set up. Perhaps there are leaderless, self-steering social systems at times; most social institutions are server institutions and lack autonomy in certain respects. Other systems, small businesses, for example, may simply be tools of an individual or group strategy and be constantly refashioned to the needs of that strategy. Something like a notion of a semisystem is necessary (if only to discard pretentious systemic analysis) for various social phenomena such as a protectorate or a football match. Or is the notion of system unhelpful as regards some coherent, organized phenomena? Reflections of Complexity in Social Studies The points expressed above largely derive from a consideration of the complexity literature. What follows is a preliminary perspective on complexity as revealed in social studies not informed by complexity theories. Although it would be easy to expand and improve on what follows, that is the point: the nature of social complexity will largely be revealed through such investigation. Narrative and Authorial Vision Narration and interpretation are ubiquitous in social studies, even in many quantitative studies relying heavily on statistics. This is an indication that, even when discussing simple material, the inextricable concurrence of different levels of complexity occurs. The prevalence of narration also suggests that if we want to describe society and its complexity, we must find one using the structure of a natural language. And all historieswhether of particles or modes of production require narration and end in silence. While broader issues of narrative and interpretation are discussed in following paragraphs, the issue of narrative mode must also be raised. The narrative mode that a social study uses reveals its openness to complexity. Faithfulness to the evidence and accuracy is neces-

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sary to reveal social complexity: without an attempt to be faithful to what is, no piece or relation of this high complexity can be revealed. This remains so even if a negative hermeneutic or deconstructive or statistical process is called for. Second, theoretical and empirical openness and the ability to learn from debates are necessary characteristics of an approach that can to some extent reveal social complexity. So too is an awareness of ones horizons. Something of an awareness of plurality and of uncaptured difference, of the political rather the technical, I would also take as signs of acknowledgement of complexity. For Hannah Arendt (1959, 9-10), Action . . . corresponds to the human condition of plurality, to the fact that men, not man, live on earth and inhabit the world . . . this plurality is specifically the condition . . . of all political life. Furthermore, complexity may be more strongly revealed in the dramatic rather than the epic: George Steiners Tolstoy or Dostoevsky portrayed Dostoevsky the dramatist as suspicious of total understanding and on the side of mystery . . . advancing into the labyrinth of the unnatural (1967, 312-13). The immersion of an author in the decentering aspects of life that give experience and maturity are also often crucial indicators of the level of depth in a narrative. I would use these criteria to argue that societys complexity may be implicitly revealed or concealed in almost any of the various sociological approaches and in other writings on human society. The Mixed Appropriation of Differential Complexity Societies, or social formations, are too complex, shifting, ambiguous, extensive, and relentlessly instantiated in particulars for there to be exhaustive social description or explanation, including complexity explanations. Any reasonably sensitive analyst of society knows something about these horizons: they are part of everyday life and part of the historical experience of many generations. Partly for this reason, the nature of society and of social complexity are open questions. At present, their best characterizations are implicitly contained (amid much dross) within the combined subdisciplinary fields of the social sciences and humanities, within local studies and local knowledge, and within traditions of phronesis and praxis (Bernstein 1983). A complexity approach must rise to, and acknowledge, these implicitand sometimes more explicitcharacterizations before claiming privileged social knowledge.

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Generally, social studies contain a mixture of approaches to social complexity, variously reflecting peoples experience, attempting to solve practical human problems, speaking of determinable states of affairs, using some statistics and quantification, interpreting information and texts, reflecting complex reality as contingent, trying to make sense of the whole, and, more negatively, developing a pseudosystematic view of the world and denying aspects of the worlds complexity for reasons of ideology and sectional interest. This reflection endorses, and goes beyond, Harvey and Reeds (1996) picture of ontological levels and Lees advice that we should aim to make use of both narrative prose and mathematics to describe a world in which individual human and non-human interaction cumulate through linear and nonlinear, local and global, probabilistic and deterministic processes (1997, 29). But describing society through narrative prose and mathematics is similar to horse and rabbit pie: narrative has far more varieties and far more symbols than does mathematics. But clearly society has different kinds of complexityand simplicityall occurring together in a way that is best described not through a single systemic view but through a variety of quantitative, hermeneutic, polemic, speculative, and problem-solving methods. Particular Discourses It would seem that the route to understanding and explaining the overall systemic and relational nature of many sectors and processes in societyand to give any sort of general accountlies through particular discourses, traditions, disciplines, and literatures. For instance, if, as in one version of feminist discourse, it is broadly true that in mens discourse, the world is designated as inanimate abstractions integral to the subjects world, while womens discourse designates men as subjects . . . and the world as concrete inanimate objects belonging to the universe of the other (Irigaray 1993, 35), this must affect any general account of society. Similarly, if attempting to manage being black in a northern culture requires some specific forms of double consciousness as Paul Gilroy (1993, 1) maintained, this too must have many historical and structural consequences; and in turn social theories, and theories of social complexity, will be rendered impotent by ignoring these and numerous other significant processes made visible in differentiated and specialized areas of social enquiry.

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Hermeneutics The hermeneutic moment in all social investigation displaces any final formal model and introduces propositional and representational elements that can be analyzed only through further, disputable, interpretation. The study of complex social phenomena is inevitably drawn into this hermeneutic process. The methodologies proposed by Giddens (1984, 327 ff.) and John Thompson (1990, 272-327) and the philosophical tradition of critical or depth hermeneutics18 can be used to show the necessity of hermeneutics in sociological study and, as exemplified in Giddenss theory of structuration, also the importance of recognizing the source of many actions in the new interpretations of social subjects and groups, as opposed to sources in external or even internal structural injunctions. Both Giddens and Thompson proposed strong synthetic methodologies involving both general social and symbolic structure and the particularities of context and interpretation. Any account of the complexity of society, regardless of the scope for objective description, must go through the process of interpretation and must acknowledge the potential social effect and creativity of people. This has implications as to which overall models of conscious human shaping as opposed to structural constraint are generally and contextually accurate. Relationism: Pierre Bourdieu Pierre Bourdieu used a relational method of investigating social fields and of constructing the object to escape what he called the realist or substantialist mode of thinking . Bourdieus fields roughly correspond to Luhmanns subsystems19; however, Bourdieus intention was to suggest something more contingent and conflictual and more rooted in the particularities of relational interaction than is reflected in an emergent, self-regulating model of a system. Bourdieus method of scientifically uncovering social objects through adding to the science of scarcity, a science of the practical knowledge which the agents obtain for themselves by producing divisions and classifications which are no less objective than those of the balance-sheets of social physics (Bourdieu 1986, 483), requires attentive, laborious work. It also requires a rigorous suspicion of the reification of ordinary language realism and of theoretical concepts: compared to the traditions of structuration and depth-hermeneutics, lay people here

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have few rational resources beyond their own strategizing. Bourdieu required the building of a relational model that gradually uncovers the traits of members of the relational set that are responsible for the differences within and structure of the object of investigation (Bourdieu and Wacquant 1992, 224 ff.). In this approach, Bourdieu in large measure was open to the pluriformity and flux of the things he investigated, which suggests kinship to some aspects of complexity theory. I think that Bourdieu showed, whatever the limits of his method,20 that there are levels of relational interaction and structure that are not immediately visible or susceptible to theoretical deduction but rather to laborious reconstruction (see also Emirbayer 1997). In this light, the application of metatheoretical organismic models to society and its subsystems seems highly premature; and physicalistic accounts of nonlinearity in society that exclude the symbolic systems of classification are dabbling with the edges of social structure and systematic features. Contingency: Zygmunt Bauman A contingent approach has been strong among some philosophers of history such as Isaiah Berlin and historians such as A.J.P. Taylor, and this is the attitude to social complexity in some postmodern cultural and social studies. The recent writings in social theory by Zygmunt Bauman related the issues of structures and systems to the high complexity of contingency, passion, transient worldviews and rationalisms, and systems under attack and reshaping in the collective heteronomy of particular processes and humans in action. The chaos and contingency which modernity spent two centuries to occlude out of the business of life is not just back in the field of vision, but appears there . . . naked, without cover or adornment; the effort to bring the excluded peoples of the South into the modern order opens up the floodgates through which chaos and contingency pour into their, once orderly, lives (Bauman 1995a, 27, 31-32). For Bauman (1995b, 143),
The endemic indetermination leaves man free to choose, yet this freedom is invariably deployed in frenzied efforts to foreclose this choice . . . . The result is the system, which in Lyotards words has the consequence of causing the forgetting of what escapes it. What escapes it is the other aspect of human condition . . . . No system has ever disposed of that residue. But what remains in that residue is fraught with system-building zeal . . . . The human condition is such

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that in one fell swoop it spawns systems and the rebellions against them.

In this account, informed surely by the historical events of the holocaust and the collapse of Eastern European state socialism, it is not just the personal and private that is fluid and contingent; the public terrain too simultaneously has systems in formation, dominance, opposition, and decay; the progress of systems and social stability are not due to the self-steering of systems but rather of historical system projects of groups of people, projects that often end up being other peoples disorderas with the holocaust or development. How strong is Baumans model? Clearly, a portion of what he said relates closely to the issues of social complexity (especially as regards modern societies), but it does not accord with organismic or systemtheoretical complexity perspectives. Furthermore, Baumans emphasis on the unpredictable reiterates that many significant social processes are maximally complex in the random sense and formed by what Katz (1986) termed ephemeral templets. Labyrinthine Complexity In the industrial and modern eras, there is an aesthetic approach to society depicting existential and rational entrapment in endless and perverse social and psychological constraint, as in Kafka and Peter Handke, and labyrinthine social darkness, as in some of Mahlers music. Earlier, Dickens and Dostoevsky explored social darkness of the physical and psychological warrens of the nineteenth-century city. This immersion in nonhuman and inhuman systems and structures I will term labyrinthine complexity. This perspective has some precedent in classical accounts of life given by Dante and others.21 Particularly French social theory has taken up elements of this vision, as with Foucault and, from the perspective of psychoanalysis, Lacan. Bauman combines contingent perspectives with a picture of unfolding alienation and social domination and estranged progress. This literature suggests that the system is threatening the lifeworld, in Habermass terms, and that perverse structure is replicated at the most intimate levels. The issue is more than that of capitalist commodification and exploitation; bureaucratic and discursive regimes are also implicated. As regards complexity theories, this approach largely trades in an unquantifiable phenomenological currency. It calls into question the

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boundaries between social systems and people by suggesting that people are constantly constrained into performing intricate structural routines. It also suggests that there is no necessary connection between the logic of systems in society and human welfare and well-being. Ethics Specific issues as regards social modelingand thus complexity theoriesare raised by aspects of social process such as peoples creating and contesting discourses and practices of ethics, rationality, and becoming, both within the horizon of mortality and at a general social level (cf. Taylor 1989; Bloch [1959] 1995). This side of social process may not be functional in a naturalist sense; Slavoj Z iz# ek quoted Chestertons remark that civilization itself is the most sensational of all departures and the most romantic of all rebellions . . . . It is based on the fact that morality is the most dark and daring of conspiracies (Z iz# ek 1991, p. 81). In a global environment, struggle toward a caring, just civilization must largely be seen from the perspective of the South, environmental protection and the politics of the personal: a civilization that is sane, humane and ecological (Robertson 1983). Practices on this terrain, led by intentionality, have a logic distinguishable from the vegetative heteronomy of habitual social reproduction, and thus will manifest specific complexities. Theoretical work, such as exploring the issue of social complexity, in its modest way and like other action, mostly replicates but sometimes refashions ones position in the politics of this civilization and the social process of practical-moral becoming in oneself and others.

CONCLUSION Social processes and phenomena are far too complex for complexity theory to deal with, or profoundly elucidate, without the aid of the resources of the better of existing social theories and studies. Furthermore, complexity theories do not provide a particularly effective metatheory of social processes. Having said that, I think that a far more adequate theory of social complexity, conscious of its horizons, could be gradually constructed as an aid to the social theories in which it will be immersed. In this process, people involved with social complexity will have to be sociologically literate, and should be engaged fully in the debates concerning the particular field and local

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area with which they are dealing. In particular, this will involve real people in contested history. NOTES
1. Some examples of the popular science literature in English on the general theme of nonlinearity are Woodcock and Davis (1980) on catastrophe theory; Eigen and Winkler (1983) on game theory; Douglas Hofstadters (1980) classic romance of paradoxical logic in the computer age, Gdel, Escher, Bach; Capras (1983) solar age polemic against Cartesian-Newtonian thought; Ruelle (1993) and Hall (1991) on chaos theory; and John Castis (1993) Searching for Certainty. More strictly on the theme of complexity are popular texts such as Laszlos Evolution: The Grand Synthesis (1987); Prigogine and Stengerss Order Out of Chaos (1985), which approached the topic from the philosophy of science; William Poundstones outline of how physical law and information conspire to create complexity in The Recursive Universe (1987); Waldrops chatty narrative Complexity (1984); Castis Complexification (1994); The Collapse of Chaos: Discovering Simplicity in a Complex World (Cohen and Stewart 1995); Daviess The Cosmic Blueprint: Order and Complexity at the Edge of Chaos (1995); Coveney and Highfields systematic and clear Frontiers of Complexity (1995); Stuart Kauffmans (1995) popularization of his own work; and Capras most sober relevant work, The Web of Life (1997). Paul Cilliers (1998) provided a model of understanding based on neural nets and an organicist model of social complexity to justify an objectivist reading of Derridas deconstruction. 2. Examples of this include highly speculative passages in Kauffman (1995), Capra (1997), Casti (1994), Laszlo (1987). More technical, scientific, and academic works, for example, Kauffman (1989, 1993), Eigen (1996), Nicolis and Prigogine (1989), and Prigogine and Stengers (1985) are generally reticent on the question of social complexity. Helbings (1995) work was a cautious yet rigorous attempt to extend nonlinear mathematical techniques to social studies. 3. The bibliographies of Kiel and Elliot (1996, 325-45) and Eve, Horsfall, and Lee (1997, 281-300) each contain more than five hundred references to sources that contributors to the volumes have used in their efforts to relate concepts of chaos and complexity to social processes. 4. For some of the current debate on dependency theory, see Leys (1996), especially Underdevelopment and Dependency: Critical Notes; B. Hettnes Development Theory and the Three Worlds (1996); and Schuurman (1993). These all deal with reasons for the collapse of the dependency paradigm in its classic form in the early 1980s. See also Featherstone (1990) for debates on how cultural considerations might modify dependency theory. 5. See especially Bourdieus Outline of a Theory of Practice (1977) and Distinction (1986). See also a general overview of sociological theories of social action by Ian Craib (1992, 33-124). 6. Here I attempt to work within Charles Taylors (1989) description of historical currents of social and philosophical thought, as they have influenced peoples selfconstitution. 7. Sardar (1994) argued that in significant respects, the advent of complexity theories merely carries forward Western attempts to dominate the globe while ignoring older, and less manipulative, non-Western accounts of complexity.

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8. This is Bourdieus (1986) term; see also my discussion of opinion surveys of white South Africans under apartheid (Stewart 1994, chap. 3). 9. Prigogine and Stengerss Order Out of Chaos (1985) has overlaps with Capras approach, but by being more immersed in the philosophical debate, this text is far less sweeping in its philosophic conclusions than is Capras. 10. At the same time, some more recent writers on social complexity such as David Harvey and Danilo Zolo (e.g., Zolo 1992) are informed fully by differing strains of contemporary social theory. Harveys The Condition of Postmodernity (1989) is a classic of neo-Marxist analysis and analysis in the modern tradition of cultural studies. 11. See, for example, Parsons (1977, 180): a social system, like all living systems, is an open system engaged in a process of interchange . . . with its environment. Craib (1992, 38) argued that Parsons does not stop at saying social life is like a living system, he says that it is a living system of a particular type. 12. This theoretical siting of Parsonss work is outlined in Habermas (1987a, section VII) and in Peter Hamiltons (1996) article on systems theory. 13. In the recent Chaos, Complexity and Sociology (Eve, Horsfall, and Lee 1997), Luhmann is mentioned briefly in three of twenty chapters and sectionsand one of these three is written by an Austrian. Habermass significant critique is nowhere mentioned. 14. Habermas (1987a, 310) said that in Luhmanns theory, traditionally customary contexts of action oriented to mutual understanding get shoved out into the environments of systems. 15. In addition to primarily theoretical texts on topics such as social differentiation and social systems, Luhmann has a number of rather theoreticist and nonempirical books on topical themes such as Trust and Power (1979), Love As Passion (1986), Ecological Communication (1989), Political Theory in the Welfare State (1990), and Risk: A Sociological Theory (1993). 16. For example, in Becks The Reinvention of Politics (1997), almost all the dozen or so references to Luhmann were in disagreement. 17. Funtowitz and Ravetz (1994) attempted to develop a notion of emergent complexity to deal with systems of higher complexity by virtue of containing intelligent, symbolizing moral beings. 18. See, for example, John Thompsons Critical Hermeneutics: A Study in the Thought of Paul Ricoeur and Jurgen Habermas (1981); also see Outhwaite (1996). 19. Bourdieu discussed the differences between these two concepts in Bourdieu and Wacquant (1992, 102-4). 20. See, for example, Alexanders (1995, 128-217)hotly debatedcharge of reductionism. 21. This is outlined in Penelope Doobs study, The Idea of the Labyrinth: From Classical Antiquity through the Middle Ages (1990), in which the author outlined the use of the idea of labyrinths in Virgil, Chaucer, and Dante.

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Peter Stewart is an associate professor of development administration at Unisa in Pretoria. He studied in Malawi, the U.S. and South Africa. He has published on development and on white political attitudes. He has been involved in political, gender and review of life groups. He is married and lives in Johannesburg.

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