Complexity and the Social World: building on the legacy of Allen, Byrne, Stacey and Cilliers

Mark   December 16, 2020   Comments Off on Complexity and the Social World: building on the legacy of Allen, Byrne, Stacey and Cilliers

Online event 3rd March 2021, 12.30-14.00 GMT

Register here

Complexity theory took off in the 1990s and four of the key people who shaped how these ideas were developed for application to the social world will be represented in this event. In this unique retrospective, we will explore how these four thinkers approached complexity thinking over long careers.

Invited Speakers

  • Peter Allen  – Embracing Complexity
  • David Byrne – Complexity and the Social Sciences
  • Chris Mowles in the legacy of Ralph Stacey –  Complex Responsive Processes
  • Rika Preiser in the legacy of Paul Cilliers –  Complexity and Postmodernism

The discussion will be hosted by Jean Boulton

Each speaker will address two questions: what do you feel is the key contribution made by you and/or the tradition that informs your work? What is needed in this field in the future?

The speakers will each present and then discuss these issues with each other, before answering questions from the audience.


David Byrne is Emeritus Professor in the Department of Sociology, at the University of Durham. His first book on complexity, was ‘Complexity Theory and the Social Sciences’ (1998), built on in ‘Complexity Theory and the Social Sciences: the state of the art’ (Byrne and Callaghan, 2013). His new book ‘Inequality in a Context of Climate Crisis: A Complex Realist Approach’ will be published soon. His research interests include researching large scale complex interventions, case-based methods, inequality and social exclusion.

Peter Allen is Emeritus Professor at Cranfield University. He has a PhD in theoretical physics and from 1972-87 worked with Nobel Laureate, Ilya Prigogine at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. He then ran two Research Centres, focused on complexity, at Cranfield University. He has written and edited several books in the field of complexity and socio-economic modelling and published well over 200 articles. In 2011 he co-edited the Sage Handbook on Complexity and Management and in 2015 co-authored Embracing Complexity (OUP) with Jean Boulton and Cliff Bowman.

Friedrich Paul Cilliers (1956 – 2011) was a South-African philosopher, complexity theorist, and Professor in Complexity and Philosophy at Stellenbosch University. His original background was in Electronic Engineering. His research focused on the ethical implications of complexity theory and the philosophy of science. His book ‘Complexity and Postmodernism’(1998) integrates insights from complexity with the thinking of Derrida, Lyotard and others. Together with Rika Preiser, he co-edited ‘Complexity, Difference and Identity’ (2010) and his collected essays ‘Critical Complexity’ (2016) was edited by Rika Preiser after his death.

Ralph Douglas Stacey, Emeritus Professor of Management at the University of Hertfordshire, was Director of the Complexity and Management Centre, established in 1995, until 2011, when he was succeeded by Professor Chris Mowles. He was born in 1942 in Johannesburg. Initially trained in law, his PhD focused on the construction of econometric models of industrial development. He pioneered an inquiry into the implications complexity theory for understanding human organisations and their management. He is best known for his writings on the theory of organisations as complex responsive processes of relating (2001) and this work was influenced through his training as a Group psychotherapist.

Professor Chris Mowles is Director of the Managing Complex Change Research Group at the University of Hertfordshire. He also teaches and consults internationally. Chris is interested in research methods, strategy and change in organisations, and ethics. He has a particular focus on the functioning of groups.  ‘Managing in Uncertainty: Complexity and the paradoxes of everyday organizational life’ was published in 2015.

Dr Rika Preiser is a Senior Researcher with the Centre for Complex Systems in Transition at the University of Stellenbosch. In 2012 she completed her PhD in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Stellenbosch, entitled ‘The Problem of Complexity: Rediscovering the role of Critique’. Rika was supervised by Paul Cilliers and worked closely with him, taking the lead in editing his papers posthumously. Her current research explores the conceptual development of complexity, and she has a particular interest in social-ecological transformations and works closely with the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

Dr Jean Boulton is a Visiting Fellow with Cranfield School of Management and a Visiting Senior Research Fellow with the Department of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Bath and a recent (2019) Research Fellow with Stellenbosch Institute of Advanced Studies. She has a PhD in theoretical physics and is a Fellow of the Institute of Physics. She teaches and consults around the theme of complexity and its implications for the social and natural world at a range of institutions. She is lead author of ‘Embracing Complexity’ (2015). Her current interests centre on the development of ‘process complexity’ and on articulating the implications of complexity for theories of change and transformation.