Complexity


DAVIS, B. & SUMARA, D. 2006. Complexity and Education: Inquiries Into Learning, Teaching, and Research, London, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Ch 1

What is complexity – defined by its subject rather than methodology: a living system?



Features that define the qualities of complex systems include:

·         self-organised,

·         bottom-up emergent,

·         short-range relationships
·         nested structures
·         ambiguously bounded
·         organisationally closed
·         structure-determined
·         far-from equilibrium

Not an explanatory system or meta-discourse. 

Questions that invoke a poetic sensibility and rely on analogy, metaphor and other associative (that is non-representational) functions of language.  (Davis & Sumara 2006:7)

Rules that govern complex system are unpredictable and volatile, subject to change if systems change from one system to another.

‘a learner is a complex unity that is capable of adapting itself to the sorts of new and diverse circumstances that an active agent is likely to encounter in an dynamic world.’  (Davis & Sumara 2006:14)


This cuts across conventions that view learner as isolated & insulated individual.  More and varied entities – social & class groupings bodies of knowledge, organisations &c

Complexity thinking foregrounds the role of the observer.

Complexity thinking ‘rejects scientific objectivity, relativist subjectivity, structuralist or post-structuralist inter-subjectivityas satisfactory foundations for any truth claim’.

The knower’s knowledge necessarily affects the way phenomenon s perceived and how the knower acts in relation to that phenomenon. Complexity theories aim for an: inter-objectivity.

Complexity thinking emphasises the extent to which phenomenon is best understood as an intricate series of systems each embedded in each other and each co-relating to each other as part of a wider overall system.

Complexity thinking repositions the distinction between knowledge as process vs knowledge as product with an analysis of knowledge as stable entity as a subsystem of knowledge as a dynamic fluctuating system that underpins this stability. Knowledge – the canon of what is known & the activities through which knowledge is generated. Accommodates both subjective / objective depending upon the system each is considered part of.

Dichotomy replaced with bifurcation.

Bifurcation highlights not just difference but relationship as each has a centralising genealogy & someone is required to make the distinction.

Traces development from ècorrespondence theory to ècoherence theory to ècomplexity theory

From the separating logic of Aristotle to the evolutionary dynamic of Darwin. Language correspondence tags directly to external objects to language as constructed and inter-subjectively shared. The focus is on internal, pragmatic fit rather than external match.

Both coherence theory and complexity theory argue that the internal dynamics of an organisms are related to the contextual conditions from which it emerges. Complexity theory depart towards a distributed representation. Representations have no meaning in and of themselves, only as part of a wider system of meaning.

As such it is particularly attentive to: metaphor, analogues and images.

The social is always and already embedded in the individual: the individual is constituted by and constitutive of the social. 


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