Complex Systems and Complexity Thinking

  • Paul HagerEmail author
  • David Beckett
Part of the Perspectives on Rethinking and Reforming Education book series (PRRE)


This chapter introduces fundamental aspects of what is popularly called complexity theory, though, for reasons explained in the chapter, we prefer the term complexity thinking. The concept of complexity and its accompanying cluster of key ideas, such as reduction, nonlinear relations and emergence, is outlined and discussed. Crucially, the chapter distinguishes between restricted complexity and general complexity. Whilst restricted complexity has proven to have wide applicability within mathematics and the natural sciences, we argue that it is general complexity that is more relevant to major portions of the human and social sciences. This chapter also identifies and discusses three kinds of emergence, concluding that it is weak emergence that is vitally important for the human and social sciences. Though complexity thinking remains a contested field of inquiry, this chapter does not attempt to resolve ongoing disputes within complexity thinking itself. Rather its aim is to present a coherent version of complexity thinking, one that suggests novel and fertile understandings of the unresolved issues identified in previous chapters. It is the task of the remaining chapters of the book to demonstrate the power of complexity thinking to deepen and expand our understanding of these pressing issues.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Arts and Social SciencesUniversity of Technology SydneySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Melbourne Graduate School of EducationThe University of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia

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