Complexity Theory – Manson and O’Sullivan

Manson et al.’s article Complexity Theory in the Study of Space and Place (2006) discusses “whether complexity theory is too specific or too general, through some ontological and epistemological implications, and on to the relationships of complexity theory with computational modeling” (688). The authors constantly mention “space-and-place-based studies” rather than introducing the discipline of GIScience and its involvement in space and place research (687). I believe Manson et al. deliberately did this because their article highlights that complexity theory is inter-disciplinary, as well as “supradisciplinary,” meaning multiple topics and disciplines that are interested in space and place (e.g. anthropology and geography) are intertwined to conceptualize the complexity of a certain phenomenon (680). Manson et al. also mention that “this breadth can be seen as a weakness with respect to disciplinary coherence and depth of analysis,” however, I believe GIScience is the discipline that aims to develop “disciplinary coherence” and new analyses in “space-and-place research” (ibid.).

Additionally, I wonder how complexity theory will be considered within anthropology and volunteered geographic information (VGI), especially since complexity theory is still trying to conceptualize “‘other ways of knowing’” as well as generalizations/specifics (687). Like what we discussed in class with Indigenous GIS and mapping, ‘others’ conceptualize space and place differently than the Western ethnocentric standards. Consequently, improvements in modeling ‘other’s’ social/cultural complex systems have been neglected because it is a difficult task programming different conceptualizations of space and place unless the ‘other’ is the one that models it. In another case, Schlesinger (2015) created an “Urban-Rural Index (URI)” through “crowd-sourced data” that represents the “spatial complexity” of “urban development patterns” in rural developing regions (295). Although Schlesinger’s URI may be useful for city planning, this specific example shows how complexity theory can be “too general” (especially since crowd-source data can lack specificity) and may treat social spatial complexities of rural-to-urban migrations as “facile algorithmic expression[s]” (679). With technology improving and cyberGIS becoming more established, I hope complexity theory can help conceptualize these social complex processes/relations/patterns/movements that usually are consider “too specific or too general” (688).


Schlesinger, J. (2015). Using Crowd-Sourced Data to Quantify the Complex Urban Fabric. Edited by Arsanjani, J. J., In Zipf, A., In Mooney, P., & In Helbich, M. (2015). OpenStreetMap in GIScience: Experiences, research, and applications, 295-315.


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