Difference, Identity and Complexity

  • Paul Cilliers
Part of the Issues in Business Ethics book series (IBET, volume 26)


The notions of difference and diversity have been recognised as important, but the underlying philosophical characteristics of these notions do not always receive sufficient scrutiny. An attempt to broaden the discussion is made here from the perspective of a critical theory of complexity informed by deconstruction. In structuralist and post-structuralist theories of language, difference is the source of meaning. Similarly, in complex systems, difference is responsible for the structural characteristics of such systems. It is argued that the play of difference can nevertheless not generate meaning if differences reverberate infinitely. Meaning only comes to be under bounded conditions, even though these constraints and the resultant meaning are in constant transformation. There has to be a certain “economy of difference”. Furthermore, we cannot use the notion of difference without reference to the notion of identity. Yet, identity does not determine difference, it is produced by it. Complex systems and their components are constituted through the constrained play of difference, which makes difference a resource to be cherished, not a problem to be solved. Some of the implications of acknowledging the importance of difference for our understanding of organisations are discussed.


Complex System Chaos Theory Double Movement Emergent Level Constant Transformation 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy, Centre for Studies in ComplexityUniversity of StellenboschStellenboschSouth Africa

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