Review complexity theory: An overview with potential applications for the social sciences

John R. Turner, Rose M. Baker

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

143 Scopus citations


Systems theory has been challenged in the recent literature due to its perceived disconnection from today’s research and practice demands. Moving away from the reductionist frameworks and the complicated domain predominated by known unknowns and order, a call is being made to the social sciences to begin adopting complexity theory and newer connectionist methods that better address complexity and open social systems. Scholars and scholar-practitioners will continue to find the need to apply complexity theory as wicked problems become more prevalent in the social sciences. This paper differentiates between general systems theory (GST) and complexity theory, as well as identifies advantages for the social sciences in incorporating complexity theory as a formal theory. Complexity theory is expanded upon and identified as providing a new perspective and a new method of theorizing that can be practiced by disciplines within the social sciences. These additions could better position the social sciences to address the complexity associated with advancing technology, globalization, intricate markets, cultural change, and the myriad of challenges and opportunities to come.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number4
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Software
  • Control and Systems Engineering
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Information Systems and Management


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