Complexity and Co-Evolution
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Complexity and Co-Evolution

Continuity and Change in Socio-Economic Systems

Edited by Elizabeth Garnsey and James McGlade

This book applies ideas and methods from the complexity perspective to key concerns in the social sciences, exploring co-evolutionary processes that have not yet been addressed in the technical or popular literature on complexity. Authorities in a variety of fields – including evolutionary economics, innovation and regeneration studies, urban modelling and history – re-evaluate their disciplines within this framework. The book explores the complex dynamic processes that give rise to socio-economic change over space and time, with reference to empirical cases including the emergence of knowledge-intensive industries and decline of mature regions, the operation of innovative networks and the evolution of localities and cities. Sustainability is a persistent theme and the practicability of intervention is examined in the light of these perspectives.
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Chapter 1: The Nature of Complexity

James McGlade and Elizabeth Garnsey


James McGlade and Elizabeth Garnsey BACKGROUND Over the past decades, theories of chaos, complexity and the idea of a new non-linear science have become increasingly prominent in leading edge research in the physical and biological sciences, and have diffused into the social sciences. Complexity driven research is currently engaging physicists, biologists, ecologists, geographers and sociologists alike, supported by a rapid growth of specialist academic journals and popular science books (see Edmonds 1996; McGlade and van der Leeuw 1997; and Byrne 1998 for useful reviews). However, despite its fashionable status and evident popularity, there is little consensus on just what is meant by the term. In fact, complexity has the unenviable distinction of meaning ‘all things to all people’ and is characterized by imprecise and generally ambiguous usage. The new interdisciplinary field, which has somewhat confusingly been referred to as Complexity Theory, Complex Adaptive Systems or Non-linear Science, is essentially concerned with studying the general attributes of evolutionary natural and social systems. Whatever the terminology and specific concerns identified by these approaches, at the most general level they are characterized by particular attention to structural change driven by non-linear dynamics, as well as explorations of the propensity of complex systems to follow unstable and chaotic trajectories. Beginning in the physical sciences during the early 1970s, and gathering pace over the past two decades, ‘complexity thinking’ has moved beyond the natural sciences and has begun to penetrate the research agendas of the social sciences. As a consequence, complexity is...

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