Complexity theory in the study of space and place

This article by Manson and O’Sullivan (2006) addresses some of the controversy, implications, and challenges around complexity theory.  Complexity theory is true to its name, indeed complex.  The fact that it is so interdisciplinary, or “surpadisciplinary” as the authors note, means it has implications across many fields and should thus be perused with caution.   After I was introduced with the idea of a “supradisciplinary” theory, I decided to type into my Google search bar ‘complexity theory in’ and let auto-fill do the rest.  I was surprised to find the top hits in education, nursing, data structure, business, and leadership.  I mean data structure and business made sense but the others I had to follow up on.  As the paper suggests, complexity theory really truly is applicable across all disciplines from educational reform to the nursing triage framework.  For those of you who can read something once and understand it, good for you.  I’m not one of those people.  So, slightly perplexed I set out to reread this article to answer my questions—why and how was this possible?


The answer. Relationships.  Why of course! (Upon reading this I promised myself I would try to write on a topic other than ontologies, but this now seems unavoidable) It all comes down to ontological relationships.  Complexity theory relies on ontology that “makes few restrictive assumptions about how the world is”.  Thus enabling the most holistic assessment currently available to the scientific community, perhaps outside of narratives or other ‘non scientific’ sciences.  For this very reason, it is applicable to many spheres and also faces challenges with generalizations, as the authors explain.  Generalizing relationships is something I have become increasingly concerned with while researching building my own ontology.  Essentially, anything you wish to include or not include in ontology can be considered a ‘design decision’, but where do we draw the line between a ‘design decision’ and a serious omission of information (potentially an over generalization) with potential ethical implications?  How can this be addressed?




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