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Evolutionary Systems Theory: Concepts and Schools in International Relations  

Joachim K. Rennstich

As an interdisciplinary approach, evolutionary systems theory borrows from fields such as statistical physics and evolutionary biology, as well as economics and others, to build on their insights from studies of environments—as systems—and the behavior of actors within those environments—their agency. It provides a bridge between existing and divergent but related strings of research of particular systemic elements as a unifying macro-theory of our social and physical world, fusing multiple approaches into a common model. The unifying key is the focus on the behavior of agents (e.g., individuals, groups, cities, states, world systems) as it relates to the environment (both natural and social) in which these agents act and the feedback between behavior and environment. Evolutionary systems approaches can broadly be placed into two categories: the biobehavioral and the social-evolutionary approaches to the study of international relations with the help of evolutionary theory. The point of evolutionary explanations is not to make the case that humans are incapable of making their own choices—far from it. Learning and selection are critical elements of human agency in evolutionary models. Rather, evolutionary systems theory also includes in its models the structural capacity to make those choices, which derives from and depends on previous choices made, a process also bound by our biological evolution or alternatively by our cognitive limitations and available structural selection mechanisms, regardless of the relative complexity of human learning capacity.

Article

Complexity and Quantum in International Relations  

Greta Fowler Snyder and Andre Hui

Even as work in the natural sciences has shown the Newtonian understanding of the world to be faulty, Newtonianism still pervades the field of International Relations (IR). Moved by the challenges to Newtonianism emanating from various fields, IR scholars have turned to complexity theory or quantum physics for an alternative onto-epistemological basis on which to build a post-Newtonian IR. This article provides researchers with a map that allows them to not only better see and navigate the differences within both complexity and quantum theory and the IR work that draws from each, but also to recognize the similarities across these bodies of work. Complexity theory highlights and engages systems (biological, social, meteorological, technological, and more) characterized by emergence, self-organization, nonlinearity, unpredictability, openness, and adaptation—systems that are fundamentally different from the self-regulating mechanic systems that comprise the Newtonian world. Complexity-grounded IR research, following complexity research more generally, falls into one of two categories. Through “restricted complexity” approaches, researchers use simulation or modeling to derive knowledge about the dynamics of complex social and political systems and the effect of different kinds of interventions. Researchers who take “general complexity” approaches, by contrast, stress the openness and entwinement of complex systems as well as unpredictability that is not exclusively the result of epistemological limitations; they offer critical re-theorizations of phenomena central to IR while also using qualitative methods to demonstrate how complexity-informed understandings can improve various kinds of practices. “Restricted complexity” seems to have gained the most traction in IR, but overall, complexity has had limited uptake. Quantum physics reveals a world with ineluctable randomness, in which measurement is creative rather than reflective, and where objects shift form and seem to be connected in ways that are strange from a Newtonian perspective. IR research that builds from a quantum base tends to draw from one of two categories of quantum physical interpretation—the “Copenhagen Interpretation” or pan-psychism—though more exist. Unlike the complexity IR community, the quantum IR community is ecumenical; given the deep ongoing debates about quantum mechanics and its meaning, embracing different ways of “quantizing” IR makes sense. Most quantum IR work to date stresses the utility of the conceptual tools that quantum physics provides us to rethink a wide variety of socio-political phenomena and hedges on questions of the nature of reality, even as the major theoretical tracts on quantum social science take strong ontological stances. Developing critiques and alternative positive visions for IR on the basis of either complexity theory or quantum work has been an important first step in enabling a post-Newtonian IR. To advance their agenda, however, the critics of Newtonian IR should start engaging each other and carefully interrogate the relationship between different strands of complexity and quantum theory. There are a number of key points of overlap between the work in the general complexity strand and the Copenhagen Interpretation–inspired philosophy of agential realism, and as of 2022 there exists only one major effort to bring these strands of quantum and complexity together to found a post–Newtonian IR. A coordinated post-Newtonian challenge that brings complexity-grounded IR scholars together with quantum-grounded IR scholars under a common banner may be necessary to wake IR from what Emilian Kavalski calls its “deep Newtonian slumber.” The pay-off, post–Newtonian IR scholars argue, will be a deeper understanding of, as well as more effective and ethical engagement with and in, a non-Newtonian world.

Article

International Regime Complexity  

Laura Gómez-Mera

A regime complex is an array of overlapping international institutions and agreements that interact to govern in a particular issue area of international relations. International regime complexity refers to the international political dynamics that emerge from the interaction among multiple overlapping institutions within regime complexes. Scholars have identified several factors explaining the emergence of regime complexes and the growing regime complexity in world politics. Some have emphasized the functional rationale for creating institutional linkages to contain negative spillovers across regimes. Others have focused instead on actors’ incentives, pointing to the various expected benefits of governing through regime complexes rather than through separate comprehensive institutions. Scholars have also disagreed about the consequences of regime complexes and, in particular, about the extent to which regime complexity facilitates or hinders international cooperation. The early literature tended to emphasize how institutional proliferation and fragmentation contributed to regulatory conflicts, thus undermining global governance outcomes. By contrast, other works provide a more nuanced account of the effects of regime overlaps, showing that under certain conditions regime complexity contributes to the effectiveness of cooperation. A rich body of empirical evidence drawn from the study of regime complexes in several issue areas, including environmental, trade, security, migration, and public health governance, suggests that what matters is not the fragmentation and overlaps per se but how they are managed. The increasing institutional density and overlaps in international politics in the 21st century has generated significant interest among scholars of international relations (IR). The literature on international regime complexity and regime complexes has evolved theoretically and empirically since the beginning of the 12st century. Three main questions have guided and informed theoretical debates and empirical research on regime complexes. First, what are regime complexes and how are they composed? What is meant by international regime complexity? Second, what causes regime complexity and how do regime complexes emerge? And third, what are the effects and consequences of regime complexity?

Article

Inter-Organizational Relations: Five Theoretical Approaches  

Ulrich Franke

The number of organizations involved in world politics has long been increasing and so has, consequently, the number of relations among them. For scholars of international studies, it is of central importance to examine these inter-organizational relations. The state-centrism in international relations, however, impeded the discipline’s engagement with this phenomenon for some decades. It was only in the mid-2000s that this began to change. Since then, the study of inter-organizational relations in world politics has mostly drawn on five theoretical approaches: sociological neo-institutionalism, resource dependence, network accounts, regime complexity, and classical pragmatism. These approaches will be introduced; for the sake of comparability, all five are presented in the same way, by carving out their theoretical tradition and key concepts, their core argument and causal logic, as well as their understandings of organizations and how they relate. Each presentation offers a brief look at how the respective approach has been applied.