Complexity and Sustainability
Routledge – 2012 – 368 pages
Complex dynamic system studies have been studied explicitly in the natural sciences, and most only implicitly throughout other fields. Yet much great social theory and philosophy is in fact based in complexity, and important concepts like postmodernism, risk, and collapse all stem from complexity. Six key terms are explored: nonlinearity, feedbacks, thresholds, hierarchies, emergence and self-organization, and dozens of related principles are discussed, with a focus on uncertainty, risk, vulnerability, learning, strategy, resilience, collapse and sustainability. The book surveys the role of these complexity principles in the natural sciences, social theory, transdisciplinary discourse, philosophy, and ethics, and shows how this complexity framework is a valuable lens for approaching the spectre of climate change and life in the Anthropocene.
Complexity and Sustainability is a pillar of scholarship. Wells has read much of the vast literature on complexity, extracted a set of major concepts for our times, and shown how and why these are significant. And she has done so with critical and creative thinking. As a result, this is poised to be a widely cited, major reference.
The literature on complexity is varied and is cast in different dialects and epistemologies, to the point of different paradigms. Wells provides a refreshing portrait of the complexity field as multifaceted and transdisciplinary, highlights crucial insights into this broad arena, and explores how it provides crucial concepts and strategies for addressing our environmental crisis. This is a very important book.
Timothy F. H. Allen is the co-author of Hierarchy: Perspectives for Ecological Complexity and Towards a Unified Ecology
Comlexity and Sustainability a brilliant, comprehensive synthesis of complexity theories in the natural and social sciences. Wells uses complexity concepts to cast new light on pressing issues such as climate change and sustainability. Anyone who wishes to learn cutting-edge approaches to resolving global environmental problems will want to read this thoroughly engaging, lucid, and remarkable book.
Carolyn Merchant is the author of The Death of Nature and Reinventing Eden.
Complexity theories have emerged across the natural and social sciences in just the last few decades, and the relationships between them are still underexplored. In this timely and significant work, Wells draws on the reflective ideas of a diverse range of thinkers, from biologist Timothy Allen to sociologist and philosopher Edgar Morin; yet she moves beyond mere description and categorization to advance an ambitious and compelling synthesis of her own. Perhaps most importantly, she doesn’t shy away from addressing the normative implications of the complexity sciences in the face of global sustainability challenges such as climate change. A valuable metacontribution to many fields!
Paul Baer is coauthor of The Greenhouse Development Rights Framework and Dead Heat
Foreward 1. Introduction 2. Elucidating Complexity Theories 3. Complexity in the Natural Sciences 4. Complexity in Social Theory 5. Towards Transdisciplinarity 6. Complexity in Philosophy: Complexification and the Limits to Knowledge 7. Complexity in Ethics 8. Earth in the Anthropocene 9. Complexity and Climate Change 10. American Dreams, Ecological Nightmares and New Visions 11. Complexity and Sustainability: Wicked Problems, Gordian Knots and Synergistic Solutions 12. Conclusion
Jennifer Wells is Assistant Professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco, USA