Complexity theory as a new lens for digital social advocacy

Melissa Janoske McLean, Stephanie Madden, Geah Pressgrove

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


This study uses the principles of complexity theory to interrogate how communicators for advocacy organizations facilitate discussions and plan for strategic long-term relationship building on social media. Through 25 semi-structured interviews with advocacy communicators, we offer a deeper understanding of how theory, pedagogy, and practice can all best consider the impact of concepts like fluid boundaries, nonlinearity, emergence, diversity, and interdependence in digital social advocacy communication. We conclude by discussing why and how communicators should focus not just on the present imperatives, but also the impact of the past and the needs of the future in relationship building in digital spaces, including a new theoretical subset of nonlinearity called eternal return. Complexity theory provides insight for how to think in an interdependent way about strategic use and theoretical development of social media, creating moments of current engagement and a space for future resources. Practical and pedagogical implications are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number102056
JournalPublic Relations Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management
  • Marketing


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