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Title: Complexity Theory and Social Movement Praxis: Emergence, Adaptability and Unpredictability
Contributor(s): Ricketts, Aidan Kent (author); Branagan, Martin  (supervisor)orcid ; Jenkins, Bertram Ashby  (supervisor)orcid 
Conferred Date: 2022-07-21
Copyright Date: 2021-12
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This thesis applies concepts and language derived from complexity theory to the strategic choice-making functions of social movements. In place of the search for specific organisational structures and planned strategies designed to progress movements towards predetermined outcomes, it argues that movements can become more effective by focusing upon building their capacities for iterative experimentation that enable them to respond to unpredictability by fostering their self-organising adaptive and emergent capabilities.

Viewing movements as complex systems nested within larger complex systems and drawing insights from emerging knowledge about how complex adaptive systems function and evolve, the invitation to social movement practitioners is to approach their work as experimental, iterative and catalytic. Understood in this way, the need for fixed organisational models, programmatic planned strategies and a linear perception of success, failure and progress can begin to shift towards a more dynamic view of movements as constantly evolving responsive and adaptive systems working within larger systems that are also unpredictable, responsive and adaptive.

This exploration is undertaken through an introduction and literature review (see Part 1), case studies of a movement that self-consciously employed complexity theory in its organisational and strategic choice-making (see Part 2), an examination of the nature of systemic counter-responses to movement success in the form of political backlash and anti-protest laws (see Part 3) and an exploration of how fundamental system change may be able to be approached from a complexity perspective (see Part 4).

The concluding synthesis (see Part 5) argues that numerous, different and highly adaptive social movements with different approaches to change will be needed to provide a diverse enough range of responses to unpredictable climatic and societal crises. It is likely that some key opportunities for fundamental change will only present due to extremely disruptive historic events. A key recommendation for praxis that has emerged from the body of work in the context of climate change and its social impacts is that flexible social movements, informed by complexity thinking and engaged in diverse experiments, are more likely to be able to take advantage of the field of possibilities that emerges from a range of unpredictable system breakdown events.

Publication Type: Thesis Doctoral
Fields of Research (FoR) 2020: 440805 Environmental politics
440810 Peace studies
441004 Social change
Socio-Economic Objective (SEO) 2008: 949999 Law, Politics and Community Services not elsewhere classified
HERDC Category Description: T2 Thesis - Doctorate by Research
Description: Please contact if you require access to this thesis for the purpose of research or study.
Appears in Collections:School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Thesis Doctoral

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