Complexity theory: a science of cultural systems?

Cham, Karen and Johnson, Jeffrey (2007) Complexity theory: a science of cultural systems? M/C Journal, 10(3), pp. 21-34.


In popular dialogues, describing a system as "complex" is often the point of resignation, inferring that the system cannot be sufficiently described, predicted nor managed. Transport networks, management infrastructure and supply chain logistics are all often described in this way. Academic dialogues have begun to explore the collective behaviors of complex systems to define a complex system specifically as an adaptive one; i.e. a system that demonstrates 'self organising' principles and 'emergent' properties. Based upon the key principles of interaction and emergence in relation to adaptive and self organising systems in cultural artifacts and processes, this paper will argue that complex systems are cultural systems. By introducing generic principles of complex systems, and looking at the exploration of such principles in art, design and media research, this paper argues that a science of cultural systems as part of complex systems theory is the post modern science for the digital age. Furthermore, that such a science was predicated by post structuralism and has been manifest in art, design and media practice since the late 1960s.

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