Handbook on Complexity and Public Policy
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Handbook on Complexity and Public Policy

Edited by Robert Geyer and Paul Cairney

Though its roots in the natural sciences go back to the early 20th century, complexity theory as a scientific framework has developed most rapidly since the 1970s. Increasingly, complexity theory has been integrated into the social sciences, and this groundbreaking Handbook on Complexity and Public Policy has brought together top thinkers in complexity and policy from around the world. With contributions from Europe, North America, Brazil and China this comprehensive Handbook splits the topic into three cohesive parts: Theory and Tools, Methods and Modeling, and Application.
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Chapter 4: Critical Legal Studies and a complexity approach: some initial observations for law and policy

Thomas E. Webb


Complexity theory is not the first movement to attempt to teach those with an interest in law and legal processes to think differently (see further Fischl, 1987: 510–13). The purpose of this chapter is first to introduce complexity theory to the understanding developed by the Critical Legal Studies movement (CLS), and its proponents ‘the Crits’, and position complexity theory as a logical development from the CLS. The second aim is to provide some initial indication of how this interfacing can enhance understandings of law, policy, and their interaction. There are several tensions to navigate in such an exploration, particularly, for example, where a reader might be unfamiliar with one or other of the theoretical perspectives. As such, I deal only with the possibility of communication between CLS and complexity theory, and from this make some general observations concerning the implications for law and policy, and leave other matters open to future exploration. It is proposed to confine discussion in this regard to the consideration of connected concepts found in CLS and the complexity approach, indeterminacy and destabilization, contingency and emergence, and ongoing critique and self-reflexivity. It should also be borne in mind that the construction and interpretation of law and policy in the modern administrative state is a polycentric process involving many actors operating in a wide range of contexts.

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