Sociology Department Staff
Publication details for Emeritus Professor David S. ByrneByrne, D.S. (2005). Complexity, Configuration and Cases. Theory, Culture & Society 22(5): 95-111.
- Publication type: Journal Article
- ISSN/ISBN: 0263-2764, 1460-3616
- DOI: 10.1177/0263276405057194
- Keywords: action-research, comparative method, complexity, dialogical research, evaluation
- Further publication details on publisher web site
- Durham Research Online (DRO) - may include full text
Author(s) from Durham
How can we make complexity work as part of a programme of engaged social science? This article attempts to answer that question by arguing that one way to do this is through a reconstruction of a central tool of a distinctively social science – the comparative method – understood as a procedure for elucidating the complex and multiple systems of causation that generate particular trajectories towards a desired future from the multiple sets of available futures. The article distinguishes between ‘simplistic complexity’ and ‘complex complexity’. ‘Simplistic complexity’ seeks to explain emergence in complex systems as the product of simple rules and defines complex science as the process of establishing such rules. It can and does serve as the basis of technocratic social engineering in the interest of the powerful. In contrast ‘complex complexity’ recognizes the significance of social structure and willed social agency and does not reduce emergence to the mere working out of a restricted set of rules. Research programmes informed by this second approach must necessarily engage with social actors in context – they must be dialogical. This opens up the possibility of ‘complex complexity’ as a frame of reference for action-research directed towards the transformation of complex social systems. Comparative methods, and in particular Ragin’s qualitative comparative analysis approach, when deployed as part of such a programme, can provide meaningful information about the range of possible futures and the different configurations of causes which might generate particular desired social outcomes.
Abbott, A. (2001) Chaos of Disciplines. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Academy of Learned Societies for the Social Sciences (2003) The Social Sciences
in Britain. London: Academy of Learned Societies for the Social Sciences.
Bechtel, W. and R.C. Richardson (1993) Discovering Complexity: Decomposition
and Localization as Strategies in Social Research. Princeton, NJ: Princeton
Byrne, D.S. (1998) Complexity Theory and the Social Sciences. London: Routledge.
Byrne, D.S. (2002) Interpreting Quantitative Data. London: Sage Publications.
Chattoe, E. and N. Gilbert (1995) ‘A Simulation of Budgetary Decision-making
Based on Interview Data’, paper presented at the workshop Simulating Societies
’95, Third International Symposium on Approaches to Simulating Social Phenomena
and Social Processes, Boca Raton, Florida, 15–17 September.
Cilliers, P. (1998) Complexity and Postmodernism. London: Routledge.
Crouch, C. (2000) Coping with Post-democracy. London: Fabian Society.
Desrosières, A. (1998) The Politics of Large Numbers. Cambridge, MA: Harvard
Doran, J.E. and M. Palmer (1995) ‘The EOS Project: Integrating Two Models of
Palaeolithic Social Change’, pp. 103–25 in N. Gilbert and R. Conte (eds) Artificial
Societies: The Computer Simulation of Social Life. London: UCL Press.
Flyvbjerg, B. (2001) Making Social Science Matter. Cambridge: Cambridge
Gulbenkian Commission on Restructuring the Social Sciences (1996) Open the
Social Sciences. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press
Hayles, K. (1999) How We Became Posthuman. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago
Holland, J.H. (1998) Emergence. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Lakoff, G. and M. Johnson (1999) Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and
its Challenge to Western Thought. New York: Basic Books.
Latour, B. (2001) ‘What Rules of Method for the New Socio-scientific Experiments?’,
URL (consulted June 2005): http://www.ensmp.fr/~latour/poparticles/
Latour, B. (n.d.) ‘From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik: An Introduction to Making Things
Public’, provisional introduction to B. Latour and P. Weibel, Dingpolitik Atmospheres
of Democracy. URL (consulted June 2005): http://www.ensmp.fr/~latour/
Lemon, M. (ed.) (1999) Exploring Environmental Change Using an Integrative
Method. Amsterdam: Gordon and Breach.
McKeown, T. (1979) The Role of Medicine: Dream, Mirage or Nemesis? Oxford:
Noves, A. (2002) ‘Policy in the Era of Globalization: Diversity and Intercommunication
from the Perspective of “Complexity”’, Revista de Sociolingüistica, URL
(consulted June 2005): http://cultura.gencat/llengcat/noves
Pawson, R. and N. Tilley (1997) Realistic Evaluation. London: Sage Publications.
Ragin, C.C. (1987) The Comparative Method. Berkeley, CA: University of California
Ragin, C.C. (2000) Fuzzy-set Social Science. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago
Reed, M. and D.H. Harvey (1992) ‘The New Science and the Old: Complexity and
Realism in the Social Sciences’, Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior 22:
Reed, M. and D.H. Harvey (1996) ‘Social Science and the Study of Complex
Systems’, pp. 295–324 in L.D. Kiel and E. Elliott (eds) Chaos Theory in the Social
Sciences. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Schelling, T.C. (1978) Micromotives and Macrobehavior. New York: W.W. Norton
Thompson, E.P. (1978) The Poverty of Theory. London: Merlin.
Unger, R.M. (1998) Democracy Realized. London: Verso.
Urry, J. (2002) Global Complexity. Cambridge: Polity.