Handbooks of Research on Public Policy series
Edited by Robert Geyer and Paul Cairney
Chapter 2: Complexity, power and policy
This chapter will pose three questions: how should complexity thinking handle ‘power’; how can this enrich larger debates in political and social science about power; and how, finally, should this affect our approach to policy analysis and policy making? The complexity literature generally lacks much discussion of ‘power’, notwithstanding its centrality to sociological theory. This lacuna is evident for example within agent-based modelling (ABM), one of the most popular methodological derivatives of complexity analysis. It is also evident in attempts to apply evolutionary approaches to social and economic systems – evolutionary models being a prime example of complex systems (Room, 2012). This gap attests to the origins of complexity thinking in the natural and informational sciences and it vitiates our efforts to analyse and illuminate policy making. One consequence is that in applying complexity perspectives to societal change, there is in general little reference to the distribution of power in the society concerned, and to the institutional mechanisms through which power is exercised.
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