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date: 28 June 2022

Social Complexity, Crisis, and Managementlocked

Social Complexity, Crisis, and Managementlocked

  • Emery RoeEmery RoeCenter for Catastrophic Risk Management, University of California Berkeley

Summary

Because social complexity is rarely defined beforehand, social science discussions often default to natural language concepts and synonyms. Assert a large sociotechnical system is complex or increasingly complex, and notions are triggered of many unknowns, out-of-sight causal processes, and a system difficult to comprehend fully. These terms intimate the potential for, if not actuality of, catastrophes and their unmanageability in the sociotechnical systems. It is not uncommon to find increasing social complexity credited for the generation or exacerbation of major crises, such as nuclear reactor accidents and global climate change, and the need to manage them better, albeit the crises are said to be far more difficult to manage because of the complexity.

The costs of leaving discussions of “complexity, crisis, and management” to natural language are compared here to the considerable benefits that accrue to analysis from one of the few definitions of social complexity developed and used during the past 40 years, that of political scientist Todd R. La Porte. Understanding that a large sociotechnical system is more or less complex depending on the number of its components, the different functions each component has, and the interconnections (including interdependencies) among functions and components highlights key issues that are often missed within the theory and practice of large sociotechnical systems, including society’s critical infrastructures. Over-complexifying the problems and issues of already complex systems, in particular, is just as questionable as oversimplifying that complexity for policy and management purposes.

Subjects

  • Governance/Political Change
  • Policy, Administration, and Bureaucracy
  • Political Institutions

Updated in this version

Updated all sections by clarifying language and writing. Several sentences throughout the text were deleted or revised. One reference was deleted.

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