Theoretical Research Framework

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Theoretical Research Framework

3.1 Complex Systems Research Complex systems research derives from developments of the past two decades leading to an array of transformations within various disciplines and a shift towards what is generally known as chaos, complexity, non-linearity and dynamical systems analysis (Urry 2005a, p. 1). From the phases of cybernetics and general systems theories1 of previous decades an interdisciplinary complexity and system research has developed, and is still an open and evolving research process (Mainzer 2008, p. 13). From literature it is evident that a turn towards complexity thinking took place within various disciplines: complexity in physics, mathematics, biology, later also including ecology, neurology, economics and the social sciences (see e.g. Mainzer 2007, 2008; Helbing 2007, 2010; Gell-Mann 1995; O’Sullivan 2004, 2008; Thrift 1999; Byrne 1998, 2005; Casti 1994). Mainzer (2007, p. 1) describes “thinking in complexity” as an interdisciplinary methodology which further spread out to practices outside science. It was recognised, that complex phenomena cannot be explained by single disciplines but require an interdisciplinary understanding (Mitchell 2009). Such complex phenomena are for example weather and climate, global environmental pollution, the functioning of the brain or economic, political and social systems. They challenge our understanding as they are “complex systems”, literally translated from its Latin and Greek roots as “entwined compositions” of interacting components forming an integrated whole. And the interactions may happen between elements in natural systems such as in the global climate system, between nations or organisations in socio-economic systems as in the global economy or even as interactions between the natural and the social system. The focus in complexity science therefore is not merely on the constituting elements of a system but on the relationships and interactions between the system’s components. Cilliers and Preiser (2010, p. 267) urge to the recognition that “A complex system is not something that exists independently from the parts that 1  About

the detailed history of complex systems research see e.g. Erdi (2008) or Ratter (2000).

C. Sobiech, Agent-Based Simulation of Vulnerability Dynamics, Springer Theses, DOI: 10.1007/978-3-642-32365-2_3, © Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013



3  Theoretical Research Framework

constitute it. In fact, its existence is constituted by means of the interactions that take place between the components.” Usually we look at causes and effects of the interactions between the system’s components. But complex systems pose the relevant question: how to investigate cause and effect if the elements are interrelating? In complex systems not the great number of elements is essential for the evolving of collective phenomena but the non-linear interactions (Mainzer 2007, p. 374). Thus in complexity science, instead of thinking in linear causalities the understanding of the behaviour and evolving of system