Complexity of social construction: Bridging contemporary meta-theories in social sciences

Nigel Gilbert and Ozge Dilaver

Constructed Complexities – A Network of Scholars and A Workshop Series

Complexity theory and social constructionism are two important meta-theories that have evolved from very different worldviews and knowledge bases. The two meta-theories are also associated with very different research objectives, approaches and methods. Yet, there are some important similarities between the core arguments of the two meta-theories and these similarities are largely neglected in methodological debates.

In essence, both meta-theories reject reductionist, time, space and relationship-free analyses of positivist or Newtonian social science. While social constructionism reveal existence of multiple realities and viewpoints, history and context dependence of reality and the role of social embeddedness; complexity theory studies heterogeneous populations and the role of stochasticity, path-dependence of processes, the role of interactions and interdependencies and properties of social networks.

Hence, there are interesting similarities between the two meta-theories, which can be important for interdisciplinary or intermeta-theory social research. At the same time, integration of research at both sides may not necessarily be seamless or instantaneous. Complexity theorists and social constructionists approach these issues with different interpretations and research objectives. There are important differences between the ontological and epistemological assumptions underlying the two meta-theories. This project aims to initiate an international network of scholars working together to identify conflicts or differences as well as links and similarities between complexity theory and social constructionism. As a first route, the network of scholars will follow existing connections in institutional approaches and exchange ideas at three workshops and a final conference. These events will be organized by Manchester and Surrey Universities and the project has co-investigators from University of Maryland, Arizona State University, University of Chicago, University of California, Los Angeles (USA), University of Brescia (Italy) and Eindhoven University of Technology (Netherlands). The first workshop will be in May 2013 and the events will continue until the final conference in September 2013.

Funding: ESRC

Duration: May 2013 to April 2015