Social complexity

In the discipline of sociology, social complexity is a conceptual framework useful in the analysis of society. Contemporary definitions of complexity in the sciences are found in relation to systems theory, where a phenomenon under study has many parts and many possible arrangements of the relationships between those parts. At the same time, what is complex and what is simple is relative and may change with time. Current usage of the term "complexity" in the field of sociology typically refers specifically to theories of society as a Complex Adaptive System (CAS). However, social complexity and its emergent properties are central recurring themes throughout the historical development of social thought and the study of social change. The early founders of sociological theory, such as Ferdinand Tonnies, Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, Vilfredo Pareto, and Georg Simmel, all examined the exponential growth and increasing interrelatedness of social encounters and exchanges. This emphasis on interconnectivity in social relationships and the emergence of new properties within society is found in theoretical thinking in multiple areas of sociology. As a theoretical tool, social complexity theory serves as a basis for the connection of micro- and macro-level social phenomena, providing a meso-level or middle-range theoretical platform for hypothesis formation. Methodologically, the concept of social complexity is theory-neutral, meaning that it accommodates both local (micro) and global (macro) phenomena in sociological research. The American sociologist Talcott Parsons carried on the work of the early founders mentioned above in his early (1937) work on action theory. By 1951, Parsons places these earlier ideas firmly into the realm of formal systems theory in The Social System. For the next several decades, this synergy etween general systems thinking and the further development of social system theories is carried forward by Parson's student, Robert K. Merton, and a long line of others, in discussions of theories of the middle-range and social structure and agency. During part of this same period, from the late 1970s through the early 1990s, discussion ensues in any number of other research areas about the properties of systems in which strong correlation of sub-parts leads to observed behaviors variously described as autopoetic, self-organizing, dynamical, turbulent, and chaotic. All of these are forms of system behavior arising from mathematical complexity. By the early 1990s, the work of social theorists such as Niklas Luhmann began reflecting these themes of complex behavior. Illustration of complexity (Penrose tiling fractal) One of the earliest usages of the term "complexity", in the social and behavioral sciences, to refer specifically to a complex system is found in the study of modern organizations and management studies. However, particularly in management studies, the term often has been used in a metaphorical rather than in a qualitative or quantiative theoretical manner. By the mid-1990s, the "complexity turn" in social sciences begins as some of the same tools generally used in complexity science are incorporated into the social sciences. By 1998, the international, electronic periodical, Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation, had been created. In the last several years, many publications have presented overviews of complexity theory within the field of sociology (see Further reading). Within this body of work, connections also are drawn to yet other theoretical traditions, including constructivist epistemology and the philosophical positions of phenomenology, postmodernism and critical realism.