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Institute of Advanced Study

Emergency, Tipping Points and Fragility

Tipping Points in Modelling 

Mathematical and computational models are widely used by physical and social scientists. These models are normally used to investigate the dynamics of a complex system like climate, financial markets, energy systems or societal behaviour. Due to the complexity of the systems being analysed, it is often necessary to investigate the fragility of such models and explore its capability to adapt to tipping points such as drastic climate change, financial crisis, blackouts or social epidemics. 

Through a series of interdisciplinary seminar lunches, the following issues will be discussed: 

- How stable and close to reality are model outputs when near a tipping point?
- How does the level of complexity of a model affect the predictability of important events?
- How can we differentiate a tipping point induced by the modelling process and a real tipping point?
- How is the fragility of a model assessed?
- How do mathematical, statistical and agent-based models differ when capturing the dynamics of tipping points in a complex system?

This series will maintain continuity and expansion of the interest group which has built up through previous IAS modelling seminar series and addresses new questions raised by researchers in previous sessions. The seminars are open to all researchers at Durham, and collaborators. 

Please visit for the current programme. Lunch will be provided but spaces are limited. To register interest to any of the events listed please contact Dr Camila Caiado (

For dates and timings see: [IAS Events Calendar - which is being updated in the coming months]


Emergence and Extinction: innovation, progress and change 

Innovation emerges in all walks of life: in business, new products replace old ones; in art, new styles come into fashion; in science, new technologies supersede outmoded ones; in the environment, new species evolve and appear. Different academic disciplines have sought to test these or related propositions about the emergence and extinction of innovation. For some scholars, the emergence of innovation is explained through the diffusion process in which new ideas/products become popular, reach their tipping point and then decline. For others, their studies draw on models of evolution used in biological studies to map out the probability of reproductive selection amongst the population in evolutionary games. 

This interdisciplinary programme will explore different theoretical and empirical approaches to understanding how a subject emerges and subsequently declines. The aim is to look in more detail at how these processes unfold in different contexts: 

  • Understanding the emergence of diffusion of innovation and how innovative ideas propagate in space in a range of areas ranging from management, banking history, research innovation, linguistic changes to energy technologies;
  • The destructive potential of emergences (i.e. does the emergence of something invariably result in the destruction of something else);
  • The role of zeitgeist, or the spirit of the time, in the adoption of new products and ideas;
  • The threshold for mass adoption, and
  • The extent to which all emergences are necessarily temporary. 

This programme of activities will include: 

  1. Six monthly seminars. The monthly seminars are open to all including members of the public as well as practitioners, academic and policy users. Speakers include Dr James Pattison (University of Manchester), Professor Petra Ahrweiler (University College Dublin), Professor Mark Casson (University of Reading), Dr Stefan Heusinkveld (University Amsterdam); and Professor Mark O’Malley (University College Dublin). 
  2. A one-day symposium (spring 2015). This special event is open to all, but to register and request further information, please contact Dr Pojanath 


The (In)Adequacy of the Emergency Paradigm 

The concept of ‘emergency’ is a powerful one for legal scholarship. Once an emergency is (formally or informally) declared, ‘normal’ legal processes and standards are adjusted so that states can—and routinely do—act in a manner and introduce policies and laws that we would not usually consider acceptable. Outside of law the ‘emergency’ or ‘crisis’ is also a powerful paradigm, demanding or licensing certain responses and legitimating particular interventions, usually by the state. These responses can be fiscal, social or even military. In spite of its significant power, the concept of emergency (or its synonyms of crisis or contingency) is vaguely defined, meaning that its powerful capacities are difficult to confine. This workshop will bring together participants from a range of disciplinary backgrounds to interrogate the concept of emergency (and its synonyms), explore the power and effects of the paradigm, generate a ‘single definition’ that draws from this multi-disciplinary perspective, and identifies spaces for future intellectual exploration and collaboration. 

The workshop is organised by Professor Fiona de Londras (Durham Law School). Participants from across all Faculties in Durham will bring the perspectives from their work to this interdisciplinary conversation. They will be joined by a range of academics from across the UK, including Dr Andrew Baker (Queen’s University Belfast), Dr Andrew Neal (University of Edinburgh), Ayala Prager (University College London), Professor Bridget Hutter (London School of Economics), Camilla Barker (University of Oxford), Dr John Drury (University of Sussex), Dr Liora Lazarus (University of Oxford), Professor Mark Neocleous (Brunel University) and Dr Saskia Hufnagel (Queen Mary University of London). 

For maximum productivity the workshop on 14 November 2014 will be limited in size, and those wanting to attend and/or participate are asked to contact Professor de Londras ( in advance.