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Introduction to Critical Complexity. Collected Essays by Paul Cilliers

Paul Cilliers
Critical Complexity
Edited by
Roberto Poli (Trento)
Advisory Board
John Bell (London, CA)
Mark Bickhard (Lehigh)
Heinrich Herre (Leipzig)
David Weissman (New York)
Volume 6
Paul Cilliers
Collected Essays
Edited by Rika Preiser
ISBN 978-1-5015-1079-3
e-ISBN (PDF) 978-1-5015-0259-0
e-ISBN (EPUB) 978-1-5015-0261-3
ISSN 2198-1868
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A CIP catalog record for this book has been applied for atthe Library of Congress.
Bibliographic information published by the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek
The Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the Deutsche Nationalbibliografie;
detailed bibliographic data are available in the Internet at
© 2016 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston
Printing: CPI books GmbH, Leck
Printed on acid-free paper
Printed in Germany
Photo: Paul Cilliers at STIAS, Stellenbosch, May 2011 © Jana du Plessis
In loving memory of Paul Cilliers
beloved husband, father, son, friend
whose passionate engagement with life and meaning
has touched our lives forever
Someone with a heart even fuller than his head
And a head even fuller than the world would allow him
And things would come out of his heart and his head
And how lucky for us that they did
And things would come out of his heart and his head
And yet somehow they were also inside him.
And there he would turn them every which way
To make sure that the right side was facing up
And sometimes he wouldn’t know which was the right side
And so he would have to keep turning
And because things would come out, we knew things were turning
But he didn’t mind that we knew
Because turning the things in his head and his heart was his favourite thing to do.
And because things came out of his head and his heart
The things in our heads and our hearts would turn too.
And how lucky for us that they did
Ilana Cilliers, 4 August 2011
Table of Contents
Jan-Hendrik Hofmeyr
Rika Preiser & Minka Woermann
Part 1: Single-Authored Papers
Theme 1: Characterising Complexity
Paul Cilliers
The brain, the mental apparatus and the text
A post-structural neuropsychology
Paul Cilliers
Rules and relations
Some connectionist implications
for cognitive science and language39
Paul Cilliers
Rules and complex systems55
Paul Cilliers
What can we learn from a theory of complexity?67
Paul Cilliers
Knowledge, complexity and understanding77
Paul Cilliers
Boundaries, hierarchies and networks in complex systems85
Paul Cilliers
Why we cannot know complex things completely97
X Table of Contents
Paul Cilliers
Knowledge, limits and boundaries105
Part 1: Single-Authored Papers
Theme 2: Complexity and Philosophy
Paul Cilliers
Postmodern knowledge and complexity
(or why anything does not go)|117
Paul Cilliers
Complexity, deconstruction and relativism139
Paul Cilliers
On Derrida and apartheid153
Paul Cilliers, Willie van der Merwe & Johan Degenaar
Justice, law and philosophy
An interview with Jacques Derrida
Paul Cilliers
Complexity, ethics and justice181
Part 1: Single-Authored Papers
Theme 3: Implications of Complexity Thinking
Paul Cilliers
Difference, identity and complexity193
Paul Cilliers
Complexity and philosophy
On the importance of a certain slowness
Table of Contents XI
Part 2: Posthumous after 2011
Theme 1: Critical Complexity
Rika Preiser, Paul Cilliers & Oliver Human
Deconstruction and complexity
A critical economy
Oliver Human & Paul Cilliers
Towards an economy of complexity
Derrida, Morin and Bataille
Minka Woermann & Paul Cilliers
The ethics of complexity and the complexity of ethics265
Author Index285
The editor would like to express sincere gratitude to the following people for
their encouragement and support: to Roberto Poli for your heartfelt interest
in this project and for opening the door so that we could publish this book; to
Maik Bierwirth and Olena Gainulina at De Gruyter for your patience, excellent
advice and support every step of the way; to all the various journal editors for
their overwhelmingly positive responses and for permission to reproduce the
articles that constitute this book; to Johannes Richter at SUN MeDIA for technical
assistance in converting all the PDFs to text and for the meticulous way in which
you formatted the text; to Reinette (Oonsie) Biggs for your generous support and
encouragement; to Minka Woermann and Jannie Hofmeyr for your significant
contributions; to Sandra Cilliers and family, for your vision to share Paul’s
work with those who were close to him, but also so that future readers might be
inspired. Last but not least, to Paul for touching our lives and for sharing your
extraordinary humanity with us.
Jan-Hendrik Hofmeyr
Jan-Hendrik Hofmeyr: Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, Germany, February 2015; on sabbatical
leave from the Department of Biochemistry and the Centre for Studies in Complexity of the
University of Stellenbosch, South Africa.
In 1998 a new voice exploded onto the stage of complexity studies with the pub-
lication of Complexity and Postmodernism: Understanding Complex Systems. For
Paul Cilliers this monograph, based on his PhD in Philosophy, launched his inter-
national career, and in the ensuing 13 years until his untimely death at the age
of 54, he became one of his generation’s most influential complexity thinkers. As
close friend and travelling companion in the world of ideas over three decades
Paul had an incalculable influence on my own thinking about our world, how to
understand it, and how to live a life of quality in it.
In my obituary to Paul (South African Journal of Science (2012) 108: 14–15)
I told the tale of how he made the transition from electronic engineer to phi-
losopher and complexity thinker. How was it, though, that a philosopher and
a biochemist found common ground? In my world of cells and biomolecules I
had worried from the start about the extremely reductionistic way in which bio-
chemistry approached the study of living organisms, and I started using math-
ematical modelling and computer simulation to develop an understanding of
how the myriad of components of the living cell work together in a harmonious
and integrated way. Paul, with his electronic engineering background and his
research at the Institute for Maritime Technology in Simonstown, South Africa,
became interested in the emergent properties of neural nets, and we spent many
evenings trying to figure out how to bring these two approaches to understanding
systemic behaviour together. We struggled, however, not yet having escaped the
constraints and limitations of what has come to be known as the Newtonian par-
adigm. We both needed a jolt to propel us over the hill into the basin of attraction
of systems and complexity thinking. For Paul it was the discovery of the work of
Jacques Derrida and other poststructuralist thinkers; for me it was the discovery
of the work of the theoretical biologist Robert Rosen. It was through the devel-
opment of their ideas that Paul and I realised that we had within our grasp the
stirrings of a common language, the beginnings of a new way of looking at the
world, a view that is now called the relational worldview. The active development
of the sciences of systems and complexity in the domains of both the natural
and human sciences has now shown that there is a generally perceived need for
XVI   Jan-Hendrik Hofmeyr
such a relational view of the world and that there is an active striving towards it,
despite our seeming predilection for atomistic thinking.
Paul’s contribution to the development of a philosophy that could underlie
the relational worldview is of fundamental importance. The papers collected in
this book provide a deep insight into his view of what it is to be a human being
in a complex and inherently unpredictable world, and will ensure that this work
remains accessible to a new generation of complexity thinkers. These works
chronicle his efforts to understand how it happened that humankind, especially
the Western variant, got bogged down in a worldview that managed, in his words,
to “reduce humanity to an instrumentalised, commodified, superficial thing, iso-
lated in a very real sense from the rest of life on earth?” And all of this despite
humanity’s wonderful accomplishments– science, art, music, literature. In their
introduction, Rika Preiser and Minka Woermann have done a sterling job of out-
lining how Paul engaged with this question, while at the same time situating
Paul’s work in the broader context of complexity studies in the last two decades.
Paul’s legacy continues through the work of the Centre for Studies in Com-
plexity, which has in the years since his death attracted new young stars. As
Iwrite our Centre is forming a cornerstone of a new initiative: the Centre for
Complex Systems in Transition, which consolidates existing Stellenbosch exper-
tise in complexity theory, sustainability studies, social-ecological systems and
resilience, modelling of complex systems, and transdisciplinary research meth-
odology. Our current and future students will continue to be fed a healthy helping
of Paul’s insights and wisdom and this book will be required reading for many
years to come.
In retrospect, of all that Paul has meant to me, one thing towers above all
else: he taught me to try and make each act in my daily life a quality act. This
is a tough ideal to live up to and I probably fail more often than not, but it has
enriched my life immeasurably. If you want to emulate this ideal, these pages will
offer you ample assistance.
Hofmeyr, J-H. 2012. Friedrich Paul Cilliers: philosopher (1956–2011). South African Journal of
Science, 108(3–4): 14–15.
Rika Preiser & Minka Woermann
1 Context
Any contemporary manuscript on the notion of ‘complexity’ will be incom-
plete without mentioning the work of Paul Cilliers. Together with a number of
other publications that came out just before the turn of the century (Byrne 1998,
Holland 1999, Thrift 1999), Cilliers’ book Complexity and Postmodernism: Under-
standing Complex Systems (Routledge 1998a) became a cornerstone publication
in the canon of literature on complexity. Cilliers was one of the first authors to
approach the understanding of complex systems from a philosophical perspec-
tive by approaching it from a post-structural position. He believed that taking
cognisance of the insights gleaned from the field of post-structural philosophy
would change the way that we practice science, as is evident by the following
Adopting a post-structural perspective on science will certainly be in conflict with much
of what is accepted as canonical theory of science, but may have less radical effects on the
practice of science than one expects. Unless one would want to call the opening up of new
spaces for creative thought something radical (page52).
Cilliers’ research certainly opened up a number of new spaces for creative thought,
specifically in terms of how we characterise complex systems, the implications
for studying such systems, and the critical and normative implications that a
study of complex systems poses for the way in which we model these systems.
Ultimately, the study of complex systems challenges scientists to re-think the role
of science and how it relates to larger societal questions such as how we should
live and what it means to be human in a complex world.
Cilliers framed his understanding of complexity not in terms of a fully-fledged
‘theory of complexity’, but by highlighting what consequences a complex systems
approach has for re-thinking our research and decision-making practices. Adopt-
ing an ‘attitude of complexity’ could amount in a paradigm change, as demon-
strated by the ethical and philosophical implications that such a stance holds.
These implications are unpacked in his work and feed into his larger project of
questioning and re-examining what it means ‘to be human’ in the face of complex
2   Rika Preiser & Minka Woermann
phenomena. Thus, Cilliers took the implications of adopting a complexity atti-
tude to a much deeper level of understanding than was previously the case, and
– in so doing – he generated a number of important insights that can be general-
ised and applied to a wide range of disciplines and practices.
Although Cilliers’ book remains an important reference in any study of com-
plexity, his articles explore the general ideas put forward in his book in more
depth, and with greater applicability. In some cases, these articles also contain
the further conceptual development of certain core ideas that were introduced in
his book. Before Cilliers’ unexpected passing in July 2011, he had planned to put
together a second book that would focus on integrating the range of themes that
he touched on in his articles to culminate in an interpretation of complexity that
he would call ‘Critical Complexity’. Sadly, he never got the chance to do so. On
the one hand, this collection of essays is partly an effort to realise his dream, but,
on the other hand, it also represents an attempt to consolidate and integrate his
work into a coherent framework of thought.
In order to facilitate this latter goal, the selection of articles in this collection
is not presented in chronological order, but clustered around a number of themes
that distinctly mark the theoretical and conceptual positions that influenced Cil-
liers’ understanding and approach to complexity, and that serve to explicate and
systematise his own contribution. This book is further divided into two parts:
PartI includes a selection of Cilliers’ single-authored articles, whereas Part II
comprises co-authored articles that were published posthumously. The three
themes included under Part I are ‘Characterising Complexity’, ‘Complexity and
Philosophy’, and ‘Implications of Complexity Thinking’; whereas Part II pertains
to the theme ‘Critical Complexity’.
Cilliers’ unique contribution to the field of complexity studies lies in his
sophisticated understanding of how post-structuralism enriches our understand-
ing of complexity. Likewise, his contribution to the field of philosophy is that
he developed a rigorous interpretation of the post-structural position by means
of a nuanced reading of complex systems. This simultaneous mutual cross-fer-
tilisation of both fields forms a bridge between the natural sciences and the
humanities, and generates a creative and alternative space for new thinking to
emerge. From this space, new possibilities for collaboration and transdiscipli-
nary research arise, as is evident from the wide range of collaborative projects
that form part of Cilliers’ list of publications.
Introduction   3
2 Part 1: Single-authored articles
2.1 Introduction to Cilliers’ single-authored articles
Before taking a closer look at the articles that fall under the three themes in PartI,
it is useful to briefly introduce Cilliers’ central contribution, as well as the posi-
tioning of his work by means of some opening remarks.
Cilliers initially developed his view on complexity by teasing out the simi-
larities between how meaning arises in distributed networks (such as the brain)
and how meaning emerges through systems of differentiation in language. In so
doing, he developed an understanding of complexity that was focused on the
dynamic interactions or relations between the components of a system, rather
than on the components themselves. What makes Cilliers’ work on complexity
unique, is that he not only translated the highly technical and often mathemati-
cal language in which complex systems are described in the natural sciences into
a more accessible vocabulary for scholars in the humanities and social science,
but he also simultaneously re-articulated the notion of complexity through the
lens of structural and post-structural philosophy in general (drawing on the work
of Freud and Saussure), and through a very deep and refined understanding of
the work of Jacques Derrida in particular.
Whilst both Cilliers’ unique interpretation of complexity and his post-struc-
tural engagement with the philosophy of science allows for innovative thought
and collaboration, working in the margins of both the fields of philosophy and
complexity studies poses some challenges when it comes to finding journals that
would be willing to publish work that does not conform to the conventions of
academic disciplines. With this in mind, Cilliers found very supportive platforms
for publishing his new ideas in the South African Journal of Philosophy and in
Emergence: Complexity and Organization. He published extensively in both of
these journals in a time when writing about complexity was not as trendy as it
has lately become, and it is largely due to their support of Cilliers’ work, that we
are now in a position to publish this collection.
2.1.1 Theme 1: Characterising Complexity
The first theme in Part I, ‘Characterising Complexity’, consists of eight articles
that form the core of Cilliers’ understanding of the structural and functional char-
acteristics of complex phenomena.
4   Rika Preiser & Minka Woermann
In the first three articles, Cilliers establishes the foundation on which he
develops his understanding of complexity. Based on his work as an engineer
on pattern recognition, neural networks, and the functioning of distributed net-
works, Cilliers puts forward an argument in ‘The brain, the mental apparatus
and the text’ (page23) that favours a connectionist approach for explaining
how the higher brain functions, such as perception, memory and consciousness,
emerge. By combining key ideas from the work of Freud, Saussure, and Derrida
with the neurophysical theories of the time, Cilliers manages to develop what
he calls a ‘post-structural neuropsychology’ (page23). Cilliers compares the
manner in which neurons process information to generate higher brain func-
tions with the ‘logic of différance’ (page30) (see also discussion below), and
concludes that ‘[c]onsciousness is the différance of perception and memory’
(page32). This view departs from the traditional theories of the time, in which
the brain is compared to a machine, and in which artificial intelligence is under-
stood as being based on formal, rule-based (and therefore necessarily limited)
simulations of neural networks. He argues that the formal symbolic approach
is an inappropriate model for understanding intelligence, and instead draws on
the connectionist paradigm, in order to overcome the shortcomings of the tradi-
tional rule-based approach. Connectionist models (or neural networks), which
are inspired by biological neural networks, conceive of brain function or cogni-
tion in terms of the interactions and relationships between neurons (and clusters
of neurons). From the study of neural networks, we learn that complex systems
consist of large numbers of simple neurons (elements) that are richly connected.
Complex patterns are generated by the network of interrelated components.
Based on this understanding of neural networks, Cilliers puts forward the fol-
lowing two important characteristics of a connectionist understanding of brain
function (page36):
Knowledge is not represented locally in an iconic fashion (as is the case in
conventional computers and rule-based systems), but is rather distributed
over the whole system. This is because knowledge is a function of the connec-
tion strength between units.
If brain functioning is purely relational, the system cannot be rule-based on
a first level, because there are only interactions (traces).
Given his description of how neural networks are structured and function, Cil-
liers argues that the connectionist model poses a more general model of com-
plexity than traditional rule-based models. Moreover, Cilliers argues that the
connectionist model of the brain shows a strong correlation with the structural
and post-structural models of language. In these models, meaning is constituted
relationally, which implies that there is ‘no distinction between levels, no overar-
Introduction   5
ching algorithm, but everything [should be understood] in terms of relations[…]
not between positive entities, but always only relations of relations’ (page37).
In the next two articles ‘Rules and relations’ (page39) and ‘Rules and
complex systems’ (page55), Cilliers presents a more detailed understanding
of the connectionist model. The reason for this being that, at the time, this new
model was heavily criticised for undermining the assumptions on which artificial
intelligence research was based. In these articles, the links to a post-structural
understanding of how meaning arises in language and the implications thereof
are explained in more detail.
Cilliers was specifically influenced by Ferdinand de Saussure’s structural
model of language. In this model, meaning is not the product of the substantive
identities of components, but of the differences between components, which give
rise to a negative view of identity (i.e. I am X, in virtue of the fact that I am not Y, Z,
A, or B). This view of identity reinforces the connectionist insight that the primary
unit of analysis in a complex system is the relations between the components,
rather than the components themselves. In other words, it is X’s relations to Y,
Z, A, and B that give rise to X’s identity. Despite the influence of Saussure’s view
of language on the work of Cilliers, he ultimately found the model too rigid to
adequately describe complex systems, specifically the dynamic manner in which
relationships interact in time. For this reason, he turned to the work of Derrida,
whose critical reworking of Saussure’s structural model of language provided the
basis for further developing his understanding of complexity.
The influence of Derrida on Cilliers’ work will be addressed in the next section.
At this juncture, however, it is important to note that, in practical terms, the shift
to relationality as the mechanism that generates complexity, translates into the
insight that ‘[t]here is no Programmer, no Scientist that can uncover the full Truth
and the final significance of each element. There is, and was, always only the
relationship of traces’ (page37). The insight that complexity cannot be located
(or isolated) and analysed so as to find the essential and central operating unit
from where all information can be accessed and stored, is a very significant char-
acteristic of complexity. For Cilliers this insight has substantial consequences in
terms of how we approach or model complexity, how we study it, and what type
of knowledge we can generate. This concern is captured in the following quote
regarding the nature and status of rules:
There is nothing mystical about the workings of a complex system. However, since the
nature of the system is the result of countless, local, nonlinear, non-algorithmic, dynamic
interaction, it cannot be described completely and accurately in terms of a set of rules
6   Rika Preiser & Minka Woermann
The remainder of the articles in Part I mainly focus on questions concerning the
implications that such a relational understanding of complexity (as a character-
istic of systemic interaction) has for how one can model complexity and, subse-
quently, for knowledge generation and understanding.
The next five articles – ‘What can we learn from a theory of complexity’
(page67), ‘Knowledge, complexity and understanding’ (page77), ‘Bound-
aries, hierarchies and networks in complex systems’ (page85), ‘Why we
cannot know complex thinks completely (page97) and ‘Knowledge, limits and
boundaries’ (page105) – can therefore be read together. These articles form the
core of his argument that theories of complexity have important implications for
the knowledge claims we make when dealing with complex systems. The golden
thread that binds these articles together is the claim that all knowledge of complex
systems will be limited due to the incompressible nature of complex systems. Rec-
ognising this fact holds implications for the manner in which we think about our
knowledge claims. Specifically, it requires of us to exercise modesty in our episte-
mological practices. This argument is explained in more detail below.
Cilliers argues that ‘to fully understand a complex system, we need to under-
stand it in all its complexity’ (page143). Considering that complex systems are
characterised as open systems that interact with their environment in a dynamic
and nonlinear manner, modelling complexity in all its complexity would imply
that one would have to ‘understand the system’s complete environment before
we can understand the system, and, of course, the environment is complex in
itself (page143). As a consequence of this ‘incompressibility’ that charac-
terises complex phenomena, Cilliers purports that there can be no perfect rep-
resentation of the system that is simpler than the system itself. In order to extract
meaning, and generate an understanding of the system under study, one has to
construct a model. A model can be explained as the way in which we frame the
system in order to build knowledge. In building representations of open systems,
we necessarily have to reduce complexity. Our modelling strategies by defini-
tion cannot therefore capture all the variables of the system under study and its
environment. Furthermore, since the effects of these omissions are nonlinear, we
cannot predict their magnitude. By acknowledging that knowledge of complex
systems can never be complete, one is confronted with the unavoidability of the
limitations of human understanding. The study of complexity thus points to the
fact that the character of our representations of reality is at most limited and
partial. This insight corresponds with Mitchell’s (2007:7) view when she argues,
‘that there will never be a single account that can do all the work of describing
and explaining complex phenomena’.
Recognising the nature of complexity therefore facilitates a shift in attitude.
Limitations are acknowledged and not concealed. Reductions are made explicit
Introduction   7
and confrontation with emergence is not obscured or denied. Cilliers argues that
this shift towards a more ‘modest’ attitude does not mean that we have to take
a ‘weak’ approach or ‘cringe in false modesty’, but that we can still make clear,
impermeable assertions (page150). On the contrary, ‘[t]he fact that our knowl-
edge is limited is not a disaster, it is a condition for knowledge. Limits enable
knowledge’ (page150).
The challenge of being able to know complex systems and the difficulties it
poses for knowledge generating practices is one of the distinguishing characteris-
tics that mark the discourse on complexity (Zadeh & Polak 1969, Allen 2001, Geor-
giou 2007, Wolkenhauer & Ullah 2007). However, the idea that all knowledge of
complexity will in principle always only result in partial knowledge (cf. Poli 2013)
is, for Cilliers, not only a technical consideration bearing on knowledge genera-
tion, but also necessarily poses normative questions when studying complexity,
a view that is discussed in more detail below.
2.1.2 Theme 2: Complexity and Philosophy
As mentioned in the introduction, Cilliers saw his complexity project as resonat-
ing with the ideas of postmodernism in general, and he developed this thesis
in his doctoral dissertation completed in 1993, titled ‘Modelling Complexity’.
His reworked dissertation appeared in 1998 under the title ‘Complexity and
Postmodernism’, and was as stated in the introduction published to critical
acclaim. The central argument of this work also appears in condensed form in
the article titled ‘Postmodern knowledge and complexity (or why anything does
not go)’ (page117). Herein, Cilliers presents his oft-quoted ‘ten characteristics
of complex systems’, and applies these to the economic system specifically, and
a Lyotardian understanding of social systems in general, in order to demonstrate
how postmodern society and its sub-systems function as complex systems. As
suggested by the title, this article also presents a defense of postmodernism, in
that Cilliers argues against a relativist approach to knowledge, arguing instead
that ‘postmodernism[…] provides us with a strategy for coping with the complex-
ities we have to deal with when we wish to talk about our world’ (page117).
Cilliers’ strong defense of complex, postmodern positions is most evident
in his inaugural address for his appointment as full professor in philosophy in
2004. This address, titled ‘Do modest positions have to be weak?’, and published
in 2005 under the title ‘Complexity, deconstruction and relativism’ (page139),
employs a number of Derrida’s arguments in order to demonstrate that complex
positions are neither relativistic nor vague, but that such positions demand recog-
nition of the fact that our knowledge claims are necessarily limited, for the reason
8   Rika Preiser & Minka Woermann
that – as argued above – we cannot understand complexity in all its complexity.
This means that we shall sometimes find ourselves in a performative contradic-
tion. However, he argues that far from landing us in a position of irrationality,
conceding to the necessity of ‘a certain performative reflexivity’ (Wood 1990:132),
is a means by which we can ‘demonstrate the difficulties that we are in; also in
the way we talk about them’ (page147). This statement reinforces the view
articulated above, namely that normative questions are inevitable when dealing
with complexity. Indeed, in this article Cilliers explicates this view stating that
‘[n]ormative issues are… intertwined with our very understanding of complexity’
for the reason that our knowledge claims represent choices, rather than program-
mable calculations. Ethics ‘are always already part of what we do’ (page150).
Cilliers’ understanding of complexity represents not only a descriptive,
but also a normative, position. Indeed, his deep concern for normative issues
becomes progressively more evident in the course of his work. Apart from taking
inspiration from Derrida’s view of meaning and language, Cilliers was also deeply
influenced by Derrida’s understanding of, and engagement with, ethical matters,
such as racism and apartheid and the relation between law and justice, and this
influence is also very evident in the articles included under this theme.
South Africa, with its history of apartheid and its peaceful transition to a
democratic country, fascinated Derrida, and his work on forgiveness and memory
was, in part, influenced by South Africa’s history of racism and post-apartheid
attempts at reconciliation (of which he was critical). Derrida’s earliest engage-
ment with South Africa’s political situation was in the early 1980s, in which time
he produced the text ‘Racism’s last word’. Cilliers critically engages with this text,
in his article titled ‘On Derrida and Apartheid’ (page153), in which he inter-
rogates Derrida’s understanding of apartheid as the ultimate form of racism in
the world, arguing that, in this description, Derrida betrays his own non-totalis-
ing philosophy. The significance of this article to our minds is that it repre-
sents Cilliers’ most explicit academic engagement with ethical-political issues. A
common point of criticism lodged against Cilliers’ work is that, although he pur-
ports to be concerned with ethical issues, his view on ethics is so non-prescriptive
and substantively empty that it becomes impossible to make serious judgements
or take a definitive stance on any matter (Kunneman 2010). Cilliers’ ethical posi-
tion will be elaborated upon in more detail below, but at this juncture we wish to
empathically note that Cilliers was no fence-sitter: neither in his private life nor
in his academic life. Although, after the publication of ‘On Derrida and Apartheid’
he never again used the academic platform to explicitly put forward his political
beliefs, Cilliers was uncompromising in both his personal and academic convic-
tions. His integrity and his deep concern for others and for the future of the planet
shine through in his work. Professor Carl Folke, Science Director of the Stockholm
Introduction   9
Resilience Centre, recently summed up this sentiment well, when – after reading
some of Cilliers’ work – he remarked that it is obvious that his work stemmed
from a deep emotional and moral conviction, which lends a certain gravitas to
his philosophy.
Cilliers’ unflagging faith in the importance of his project and philosophy in
general is also evident in an interview conducted with Derrida during his visit
to South Africa in 1998, titled ‘Justice, law and philosophy’ (page171). In this
interview, Cilliers interrogates Derrida on his views regarding the commonplace
argument ‘that philosophy is a luxury, that philosophy, and the teaching of phi-
losophy cannot be a priority(page178). We shall leave it to the reader to look
up Derrida’s response to this question, but wish to note that the question itself
represents an opening for Derrida to counter such views; an opening which Cil-
liers also sought in his own teaching and research, often reminding his students
that – in a world dominated by a technocratic mind-set – there exists a moral and
political imperative to engage in philosophy and in the arts, in order to counter-
act the totalising views that drive forward man’s relentless search for growth and
progress at the cost of all else.
In the same interview, Cilliers also poses questions to Derrida related to
justice, law, and the relation between these terms. Derrida’s understanding of
justice and law deeply influenced Cilliers’ own ethical position, and in an article
published six years after the interview, and titled ‘Complexity, ethics and justice’
(page181), Cilliers again returns to these issues, framing them in terms of a
complex understanding of the world. For Derrida, the fullness of justice can never
be realised in the world, which means that justice remains conceptually impossi-
ble (and hence undeconstructable). Law always tries to embody justice, but nec-
essarily fails to so, and is therefore always subject to deconstruction and revision.
For Cilliers, the impossibility of justice hinges on complexity. Cilliers takes the
argument that we are forced to model (and hence reduce) complex systems in
order to understand them and applies it to social systems. When applied to these
systems, ‘the violation of something or someone that is not (or cannot be) con-
sidered in terms of that description’ (page187) necessarily bears ethical con-
sequences. In terms of justice, Cilliers describes the inevitability of this ethical
conundrum as follows:
It is impossible to arrive at a complete and just description of society, not because we lack
the intellectual resources, but because the demands made on such a description are con-
tradictory. To provide justice for someone will mean that somebody else is treated unjustly.
One cannot begin to think about the problem of justice is one does not accept its impossi-
bility (page187).
10   Rika Preiser & Minka Woermann
The logic that informs the impossibility of justice also explains why Cilliers
balked at a prescriptive or substantive ethics: any ethical system constitutes a
model that is also only able to account for limited interests and concerns, and
thus does violence to those whose interests are not accounted for in terms of that
system. The upshot of this position, as argued for in the conclusion of ‘Complex-
ity, ethics and justice’, is that we cannot escape responsibility for the choices and
the decisions that we make.
2.1.3 Theme 3: Implications of Complexity Thinking
The fact that one cannot escape ethics when dealing with complexity also means
that a serious engagement with complexity also holds important implications
for how we understand the questions of individual and institutional identities,
as well as how we orientate ourselves in the world. In his later works, Cilliers
turned to these implications and two significant articles in this regard are ‘Differ-
ence, identity and complexity’ (page193) and ‘On the importance of a certain
slowness’ (page211). These two articles are key works to the extent that they
demonstrate the creative manner in which Cilliers extended his insights beyond
the scope of complex systems as such, to include issues of identity and practice,
amongst others.
In ‘Difference, identity and complexity’, Cilliers argues that difference is
a precondition for a system’s existence and its identity. Difference, however,
should not only be thought of in terms of noticeable differences (the Saussiar-
ian understanding of meaning), but also in terms of how the interconnectivities
within complex systems give rise to minute traces of difference, which pervade
every component, and which means that the identity of components are char-
acterised by the deferral of a fixed meaning, and the constant transformation
of their identities as such (a process denoted by the Derridean term différance).
However, Cilliers further argues that differences are not enough to ensure iden-
tity: differences must be framed in a specific way, in order to be recognised as
differences. As such, boundaries (which give rise to constrained meaning) are a
necessary condition for identity, or in the words of Cilliers (page203), ‘[t]here is
a certain economy involved in the process whereby differences generate meaning
in a complex system.’ Boundaries also imply that complex systems have a certain
knowable identity, which – although malleable – can be repeated over time,
meaning that complex systems also have a recognisable and repeatable identity.
The interplay between difference and sameness is ultimately what gives
rise to identity, since, as Cilliers explains, ‘[t]he element of identity inaugurates
the play of difference on the one hand, while on the other, it is the result of that
Introduction   11
very process.’ Identity is therefore premised on both ‘constrained difference and
repeatable identity’ (page205). As always, Cilliers also identifies the ethical
implications that this view of complex identities holds: if differences are a pre-
condition for identity, then it stands to reason that we should celebrate and stim-
ulate systemic diversity, because ‘[t]he more diversity there is involved in the con-
struction of the identity, the richer it will be’ (page206). Recognising this point
when thinking about organisations and institutions is critical, since as Cilliers
argues, ‘[t]he way in which we conceive of differences and structures will deter-
mine the nature of our institutions, and thus of the world we live in’ (page210).
As is clear from the above, Cilliers believed that in order to live in a good
world, we need to consciously reflect on our systems and practices. This reflec-
tion also has implications for the temporal aspects of systems, which, Cilliers
argued, should be considered more thoughtfully. In contemporary applications
of complex systems thinking, a lot of attention is given to the notion that complex
systems are adaptive, have the ability to change, and operate in a constant state
of flux. This common understanding of complexity could give the impression
that change happens continually and quickly, and that complexity should be
equated with rapid change and flexibility. However – as previously argued – the
identity of the system is recognisable over time. This implies that a system is not
defined in terms of a random momentary state, but rather in terms of its struc-
tural components that remain relatively stable. Change is thus not something that
always happens rapidly, and in many instances it is misleading to think that rapid
change is an indicator for effectiveness. In his article titled ‘On the importance of
a certain slowness’, Cilliers argues that through analysing the temporal nature
of complex systems, one can demonstrate that a slower approach to change is
vital for understanding how complex systems generate identity, meaning, and
a sense of memory. Moreover, reflecting on our choices and decisions in a slow
and deliberate manner may also mean that we are better able to anticipate the
influence that certain interventions may have on the system in question. For Cil-
liers, the idea of slowness does not merely amount to a suggestion on how we
may approach complexity, but instead has a clear moral imperative attached to
it. Along with Wendy Parkins (2004), Cilliers argues that a serious engagement
with temporality could constitute the ‘ethics of time’, and he explicitly links the
idea of slowness with that of integrity. His views on slowness also have political
implications, as is clear from the following quote:
At this point the argument for slowness becomes a political one: We should put up some
resistance to a culture in which being fast is a virtue in itself. We should say “no” with a little
more regularity (page221).
12   Rika Preiser & Minka Woermann
Through this unusual reflection on the temporal nature of complex systems,
Cilliers demonstrates that an engagement with complexity allows for new ways
of thinking that challenge us to explore alternative possibilities of knowing and
being, which may very well influence the manner in which we act and live in the
3 Part 2: Posthumous after 2011
3.1 Introduction to Cilliers’ posthumous articles
The articles in this section represents a continuation of Cilliers’ earlier interests
in the further development of the productive linkages between post-structuralism
and complexity. Specifically, Cilliers’ reading of Derrida’s deconstructive philoso-
phy is employed to further our understanding of the notion of economy, critique,
and ethics.
Collaborations in this section demonstrate Cilliers’ influence amongst his
students. All the articles in this section were co-authored with students who Cil-
liers had taught on undergraduate and postgraduate level, and whose doctoral
dissertations he had supervised shortly before his death. Cilliers was a generous
supervisor, keen to empower his students and share his knowledge. It is for this
reason that he (together with Prof. Jan-Hendrik Hofmeyr) started the Centre for
Studies in Complexity Colloquium at the beginning of 2009. Both Cilliers’ and
Hofmeyr’s postgraduate students were invited to attend the colloquium, along
with interested academics and practitioners. During these sessions, Cilliers and
Hofmeyr encouraged lively debate centred on topical articles in complexity, and
many of the insights gleaned at these meetings found their way into theses and
dissertations. Two prominent theorists that were studied at these colloquia were
the French sociologist and complexity theorist Edgar Morin, who had a huge influ-
ence on Cilliers’ later works, as well as on the work of his students; and Robert
Rosen, a theoretical biologist whose views underpin Hofmeyr’s own research in
complex systems biology.
Cilliers’ passion for his work and his support of his students is what ulti-
mately gave rise to the three articles included here, all of which were started in
collaboration with Cilliers, but completed by his students after his death. These
articles bear testimony to the legacy that Cilliers left behind, and that continues
to be carried forward in the work of those whom he inspired.
Introduction   13
3.1.1 Theme 1: Critical complexity
The call for a self-critical reflection on our theories and practices ultimately
defines the complexity enterprise as a critical enterprise. This insight became
increasingly evident in Cillier’s later work, and the importance of the critical atti-
tude underscores the arguments presented in the set of collaborative articles pre-
sented under this last theme.
The chapter titled ‘Deconstruction and complexity: a critical economy’
(co-authored with Rika Preiser and Oliver Human; page225), probably presents
the most in-depth exploration of the linkages between complexity and decon-
struction in this collection. Herein, the work of Morin and Derrida is compared
in order to tease out the contributions that both these thinkers make towards
understanding complex phenomena. Specific themes that are explored are the
economy of complex systems, and the role of critique. These themes are used to
inform an understanding of the economy of critical complexity thinking, in which
thinking itself is defined as requiring an interruption and recognition ‘of the lim-
itations that each different orientation of thought has to offer’ (page238). It is
a mode of thinking in which limits are critically negotiated. Knowledge and prac-
tices are shown to emerge as the interplay between a simultaneous rupture and
reconciliation of the old and the new, in which the order of the calculable rubs
up against the order to the incalculable. For Derrida, this mode of thinking is best
characterised by the notion of critique as stricture, which Preiser et al. interpret
as ‘a restorative critical practice, which allows for new and alternative ways of
negotiating complex realities’ (page236). Given this understanding of critique,
Preiser et al. question the type of ethics that the economy of critical complexity
gives rise to. They steer away from a prescriptive account of ethics, arguing that
‘the ethical moment is born when we have reached the limits of our computing
or equalling strategies’ (page240). In other words, according to them, ethics
is born in the moment of thinking ‘in which we take the leap from that which is
known to that which is uncertain or unknown’ (page240).
The interplay between the known and the unknown is given further atten-
tion in the chapter titled ‘Towards an economy of complexity: Derrida, Morin and
Bataille (co-authored with Oliver Human; page245), in which Human and Cil-
liers explore the notion of economy at the hand of Derrida’s reading of Georges
Bataille’s general economy. In this article, Derrida’s reflection on Bataille’s
notion of a restricted economy is highlighted, and it is shown how such a utili-
tarian conceptualisation differs from a general (or excessive) economy. However,
Derrida argues that instead of having two separate economies (as Bataille pos-
tulated), the general economy resides in the very heart of a restricted economy,
thereby preventing systemic closure. Cilliers and Human employ this view of
14   Rika Preiser & Minka Woermann
economy to argue that complex systems are examples of economies, to the extent
that they exist within certain sets of possibilities and constraints (page248).
They further argue that the term ‘economy’ is a useful placeholder to describe
the ‘slippery’ nature of dealing with complexity (page261), and support this
statement by discussing a number of implications that the term ‘economy’ holds
for the manner in which we approach complex systems.
Both of the articles discussed above provide additional support for Cilliers’
earlier claim that complexity cannot be known or engaged with in all its full-
ness, and that, acknowledging this influences the manner in which we under-
stand and employ our knowledge strategies and practices. This brings us to
the final chapter, titled ‘The ethics of complexity and the complexity of ethics’
(co-authored with Minka Woermann; page265), in which the ethical stance that
informs all of Cilliers work is explicated and systematised in detail. As concerns
the ethics of complexity, Woermann and Cilliers make the claim (by now familiar
to the reader) that every engagement with complex systems necessary entails nor-
mative considerations. Ethics is thus defined as a structural element of complex-
ity thinking, an argument which is elaborated upon in more detail in Woermann
(2013). As concerns the complexity of ethics, Woermann and Cilliers argue that,
since all conceptual systems are necessarily limited, we should be vigilant when
subscribing to a given theoretical position. Vigilance is safeguarded by practicing
(what Cilliers coined) the provisional imperative, which is ‘a strategy for remain-
ing open to complexity at the same time that we reduce complexity through our
decisions and actions’ (page270). Woermann and Cilliers further elaborate on
four operations or mechanisms – introduced in an earlier publication by Cilliers
(Preiser & Cilliers 2010) – that can aid one in practicing the provisional impera-
tive, and that ‘serve to reinforce and promote the critical attitude, namely pro-
visionality, transgressivity, irony, and imagination’ (page271). As previously
argued, rather than diminishing over time, Cilliers’ concern for the normative
implications of his positions continued to grow, and this article is testimony to
the fact that the question of ethics was one of his central preoccupations at the
time of his death.
4 Conclusion
4.1 Applications of complexity thinking
After his death, Cilliers was often referred to as a modern-day Renaissance man,
due to his diverse interests and talents. The many co-authored articles that he
Introduction   15
wrote with colleagues from a wide range of disciplines demonstrates Cilliers’
talent for transdisciplinary research and collaborations. Three co-authored arti-
cles were published posthumously. These articles are not included in this volume
due to restricted space, and they are also readily available online and are listed
in the reference here below. A short summary of the scope and main arguments
will be discussed here.
The collaboration with Basarab Nicolescu in the article titled, ‘Complexity
and transdisciplinarity Discontinuity, levels of Reality and the Hidden Third’
(in Futures, 2012), was written during Nicolescu’s visit in Stellenbosch as a STIAS
(Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study) fellow. Cilliers and Nicolescu’s rela-
tionship spanned over many years and they shared lively interests in diverse topics
ranging from physics, literature, and complexity to the art of enjoying wonderful
food. The argument in favour of connecting complexity thinking with transdisci-
plinarity is based on the fact that all knowledge of complex phenomena will, in
principle, always be partial. This limitation creates opportunities for collabora-
tion with other fields of study and, even more importantly, with non-academic
stakeholders, in the effort to explore different possibilities and models for dealing
with complexity. The argument put forward in this article is informed by insights
gleaned from contemporary theories of complexity, which are employed to eluci-
date several aspects of a general ‘Theory of Transdisciplinarity’. These ideas are
then linked to notions of discontinuity, ‘levels of Reality’, and ‘the Hidden Third’,
all of which are central components of Nicolescu’s transdisciplinary framework.
By coupling Cilliers’ complexity insights with Nicolescu’s own research insights,
further possibilities for research and collaboration are opened up. The central
insights to emerge from the article is that the transdisciplinary project should be
built on the attempt to capture relations of integration in our knowledge generat-
ing practices, and that these knowledge practices could be extended and applied
to fields that, for example, deal with complexity in social, political, and economic
The last two collaborative publication projects on which Cilliers worked
shortly before his death, were the articles on ‘Complexity, modeling, and natural
resource management’ (Ecology & Society, 2013) and ‘Complicated, complex
and compliant: Best practice in obstetrics’ (Cognition, Technology & Work, 2913).
These articles illustrate how versatile the conceptual engagement with complex-
ity can be when one is challenged to apply it to current trends and practices in
the world that exists beyond the ivory tower. As previously mentioned, Cilliers’
list of publications with co-authors span over a number of very different themes,
which begs the question as to what the connection is between these articles. We
argue that each of these articles is proof of the potential for collaboration that the
16   Rika Preiser & Minka Woermann
engagement with complexity holds (as suggested by the argument on transdisci-
The article on natural resource management appeared in Ecology and Society,
which is the leading journal in social-ecological systems research. This article
was the outcome of a networking forum on social-ecological sciences, established
under the banner of the National Research Foundation funded ‘Akili project’. The
scientists who partook in this forum were using complexity in their research,
which afforded Cilliers and Hofmeyr the opportunity to write this article with
leading South African researchers in the field of environmental management and
systems thinking. Co-authors include Harry Biggs, Sonja Blignaut, Aiden Choles,
Graham Jewitt, and, the transdisciplinary expert, Dirk Roux. In the article the
authors explore a complexity orientation when considering management strat-
egies in the field of natural resource management, in an effort to pioneer new,
more sustainable, and meaningful avenues for decision-making and action.
Whilst conventional organisational structures rely on the command-and-con-
trol styles of resource management, the authors argue that – when faced with
complex management challenges an adaptive approach is more appropriate.
Such an approach is sensitive to complexity and can therefore provide productive
alternative modeling and management strategies to deal with issues arising from
uncertainty and change.
The authors provide a rich conceptual framework for understanding com-
plexity based on Cilliers’ characteristics of complex systems and the implications
that complexity has for the study of such systems. They go further by unpack-
ing these implications in practical terms in providing five suggestions of how
a complexity thinking approach could inspire managers to proceed differently.
These five practical suggestions are summarised in the following imperatives:
1) harness diversity; 2) acknowledge provisionality and keep revising; 3) build
(mental) models in a systemic way; 4) measure, scan, and sense; and, 5) have
reasonable expectations of appropriate design. These suggestions can act as the
basis for any discussion in very nearly any field of application aimed at engaging
with the positive and practical implications of adopting a complexity approach.
The above challenge of transferring theoretical ideas to practical matters is
also characteristic of the third article in this section, titled ‘Complicated, complex
and compliant: Best practice in obstetrics’, and co-authored with Sydney Dekker,
Johan Bergström and Isis Amer-Wåhlin. In this article the focus and methodol-
ogy is however different, in that the authors draw on the distinction between
‘complicated’ and ‘complex’ matters to shed light on compliance with best prac-
tice guidelines in the field of patient safety management issues. The distinction
between ‘complicated’ and ‘complex’ is discussed at length in the work of Cilliers
(1990, 1991, 1998) and a number of other authors (cf. Dyke 1988; Morin 2007; Poli
Introduction   17
2013; Rosen 1985; Richardson 2001, 2002), all of whom dispel the notion that the
distinction is superficial (i.e. merely a matter of perspective or subjective inter-
pretation). Instead, they argue that the distinction hinges on an order difference
between complex and complicated phenomena. Based on a case study that was
conducted at the surgical theatres and labour wards at a Scandinavian hospital,
the authors contend that obstetric practices and interventions deal with complex-
ity par excellence. In light of this, the standard intervention procedures should
be re-evaluated in terms of the fact that clinical obstetric practice belongs to the
domain dealing with complex as opposed to complicated phenomena. Given that
the norms for clinical intervention in complex systems are contextual and contin-
gent, varying with time, technology, and social-clinical composition (Dekker et
al. 2013), the authors conclude with a very convincing argument that the notions
of ‘best practice’ and ‘compliance’ can only be employed in matters relating to
complicated phenomena ‘whose functioning is, in principle, exhaustively know-
able, closed to environmental contingency, and for which single best methods
can be drawn up’ (Dekker et al 2013: 194). In contrast to dealing with complicated
phenomena, complex phenomena call for a diversity of methods and interven-
tions that are sensitive to the radical contextuality and openness of such systems.
As a result, the study of complexity demands that we constantly and self-critically
reflect on our conceptual framings and practical interventions when negotiating
the hurdles of complexity in everyday life.
5 Significance of Cilliers’ work
This introduction attests to both the breadth and depth of Cilliers’ work, which
makes it difficult to definitively define the significance of this work. Nonethe-
less, we conclude with some remarks concerning his influence in developing an
understanding of complexity, and the implications that this understanding holds
for thinking about the human condition.
Between 1990 and 2010 ideas around complexity were starting to emerge
in a number of unrelated disciplines. Cilliers took cognisance of these develop-
ments and engaged critically with a number of complexity theorists including
John Holland, Peter Allen, Kurt Richardson, and David Byrne. His in depth under-
standing of these new developments in complexity, and his ability to conceptu-
ally integrate a number of these emergent insights into a general understand-
ing of complexity, led to a sophisticated and coherent account of the nature of
complex phenomena.
18   Rika Preiser & Minka Woermann
Contrary to many other accounts of complexity that understand complex-
ity in terms of an epistemological framework (cf. Luhmann 1995; Morin 2008),
Cilliers’ central contribution lies in his ontological understanding of complex
phenomena, which is born out of the conviction that reality and its organising
processes are inherently complex. This is not to say that questions concerning
epistemology and ethics did not interest Cilliers. To the contrary: as demonstrated
above, a large part of work was dedicated to exploring the epistemological and
ethical implications emerging from his ontological understanding of complex-
ity. It must however be noted that Cilliers had reservations regarding the strict
distinctions between these three levels of study, often arguing that, when engag-
ing with complexity, the boundaries between ontology, epistemology, and ethics
become fuzzy. This is because any serious epistemological engagement with com-
plexity (understood as an ontological phenomenon) necessarily raises normative
questions. Therefore, for Cilliers, engaging with complexity was not just an aca-
demic exercise, but concerned a deep reflection on what it means to be human. In
this regard, he often reminded us that there are two types of people in the world:
those who engaged with the rich and diverse wonders of our complex world, and
those who thought that there were only two types of people in the world!
To our minds, his reflection on the human condition characterises Cilli-
ers’ unique contribution to the field of complexity studies, and also marks his
engagement with complexity as deeply philosophical. At the time of his death,
Cilliers’ earlier insights were maturing in that he had moved beyond establishing
the grounds for understanding complex phenomena in general, to exploring and
elaborating on the rich implications that the paradigm of complexity holds for
rigorously and critically engaging with the big socio-political questions of our
time. We believe that the world is poorer as a result of his untimely death, but
we are thankful for the body of knowledge that he has left behind. This body of
knowledge marks his unique legacy, and we hope that this collection honours
this legacy, brings his insights to new audiences, and continues to inspire all who
read his work.
Rika Preiser and Minka Woermann
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In this study, the distinction between compli-cated and complex is used to shed some light on compliance with best practice guidelines. Data were gathered related to obstetric practice in labor wards and operating theaters at two Scandinavian hospitals, one of them being a university hospital, and in a training facility. The complexity of obstetrical intervention is analyzed in this paper, as is the potential of compliance-based routines in obstetrics. Com-plex situations are different from complicated ones and patient safety management efforts should recognize and enhance the sort of diversity that helps the emergence of resilience in complex situations
Corporations, and the environments in which they operate, are complex, with changing multiple dimensions, and an inherent capacity to evolve qualitatively. A central premise of this study is that a postmodern reading of ethics represents... more Corporations, and the environments in which they operate, are complex, with changing multiple dimensions, and an inherent capacity to evolve qualitatively. A central premise of this study is that a postmodern reading of ethics represents an expression of, and an engagement with, the ethical complexities that define the business landscape. In particular, the deconstructive philosophy of Jacques Derrida offers a non-trivial reading of a complex notion of ethics, and thereby helps us to develop the skills necessary to critique and intervene in our practices, and to develop robust strategies for living in the absence of prescriptive ethical frameworks. Although a central premise of this study is that substantive ethical claims can only be generated within a given context, the study nevertheless presents readers with a meta-position that illustrates the type of considerations that should inform ethical reflection from a complexity perspective. In order to illustrate the value that this meta-position holds for business ethics, these considerations are explored in terms of the implications that they hold for our understanding of corporate social responsibility, for the practice of responsible management and leadership practices, and for teaching business ethics.
In this paper some insights gained from contemporary theories of Complexity are used to illuminate several aspects of a theory of Transdisciplinarity and vice versa. These aspects include the notions of discontinuity, levels of Reality and the Hidden Third, which are all central components of the transdisciplinary framework. The mutual influence of these two fields on each other opens up further possibilities for research. This paper aims to explore these possibilities in more detail.
Slow living involves the conscious negotiation of the different temporalities which make up our everyday lives, deriving from a commitment to occupy time more attentively. This article considers the significance of time in practices of slow living and the imbrication of time and speed in notions of ‘slowness’ where slowness is constructed as a deliberate subversion of the dominance of speed. By purposely adopting slowness, subjects seek to generate alternative practices of work and leisure, family and sociality. I will focus on the Slow Food movement as a significant manifestation of both the desire for and the implementation of slow living through a reconceptualization of time in everyday life.
This article is an attempt to understand the increasing profile of complexity theory as a geography of dissemination. In the first part I suggest that complexity theory, itself a rhetorical hybrid, takes on new meanings as it circulates in and through a number of actor-networks and, specifically, global science, global business and global New Age. As complexity theory circulates in these networks, so it encounters new conditions, which generate new hybrid theoretical forms. In the second part of the article, I consider how complexity theory might be interpreted as the emergence of a new structure of feeling in Euro-American societies, which frames the future as open and full of productivity. The conclusion offers some words of warning.