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Abstract

This book provides practical guidance on research methods and designs that can be applied to Complex Dynamic Systems Theory (CDST) research. It discusses the contribution of CDST to the field of applied linguistics, examines what this perspective entails for research and introduces practical methods and templates, both qualitative and quantitative, for how applied linguistics researchers can design and conduct research using the CDST framework. Introduced in the book are methods ranging from those in widespread use in social complexity, to more familiar methods in use throughout applied linguistics. All are inherently suited to studying both dynamic change in context and interconnectedness. This accessible introduction to CDST research will equip readers with the knowledge to ensure compatibility between empirical research designs and the theoretical tenets of complexity. It will be of value to researchers working in the areas of applied linguistics, language pedagogy and educational linguistics and to scholars and professionals with an interest in second/foreign language acquisition and complexity theory.
Research Methods for Complexity Theory
in Applied Linguistics
Phil Hiver
Ali H. Al-Hoorie
Table of Contents
Foreword by Diane Larsen-Freeman ................................................................................................
PART I: Introduction to Complexity Theory .....................................................................................
Chapter 1: Introduction .....................................................................................................................
Chapter 2: What is Complexity Theory? ..........................................................................................
Chapter 3: Applying Complexity Theory to Research .....................................................................
PART II: Qualitative Methods ..........................................................................................................
Chapter 4: Qualitative Comparative Analysis ..................................................................................
Chapter 5: Process Tracing ...............................................................................................................
Chapter 6: Concept Mapping ............................................................................................................
Chapter 7: Agent-Based Modeling ...................................................................................................
Chapter 8: Retrodictive Qualitative Modeling ..................................................................................
Chapter 9: Social Network Analysis .................................................................................................
Chapter 10: Design-Based Research Methods ..................................................................................
PART III: Quantitative Methods .......................................................................................................
Chapter 11: Panel Designs ................................................................................................................
Chapter 12: Latent Growth Curve Modeling ....................................................................................
Chapter 13: Multilevel Modeling......................................................................................................
Chapter 14: Time Series Analysis.....................................................................................................
Chapter 15: Experience Sampling Method .......................................................................................
Chapter 16: Single-Case Designs......................................................................................................
Chapter 17: Idiodynamic Method .....................................................................................................
PART IV: The Future of CDST Methodology ...................................................................................
Chapter 18: Method Integration ........................................................................................................
Chapter 19: Glossary and Further Resources for CDST Methodology ............................................
Foreword: Taking the Next Step
Diane Larsen-Freeman
It was only 5 years ago, in 2014, that I had an opportunity to speak at the University of
Nottingham at the invitation of Professor Zoltan Dörnyei. On that occasion (the Motivational
Dynamics Conference), Professor Dörnyei introduced me to two of his graduate studentsPhil
Hiver and Ali Al-Hoorie. He told me that the two were excellent students and that they were
interested in Complexity Theory. It was clear to me then, not only from the strong endorsement
by Professor Dörnyei, but also by the depth with which the students and I engaged in discussions
of Complexity Theory (one of which took place on an excursion to Sherwood Forest!), that these
were two gifted scholars. Well, time has passed, and Professor Hiver and Professor Al-Hoorie
are no longer graduate students, but academics in their own universities. They have had a
productive collaboration in the intervening years, and happily, they have joined forces once
again to produce this volume. I am grateful that they have done so.
This is an important book. Complexity Theory has ushered in a new way of thinking,
challenging some basic conceptions about how scientific inquiry should be conducted. No longer
can we be content with Newtonian reductionism, a Laplacian clockwork universe with its
deterministic predictability, and the use of statistics to generalize from the behavior of population
samples to individuals. Closer to our academic interests, this new way of thinking has called into
question conventional ideas about language and its learning/development. For instance, language
has been seen as composed of a static system of rules, and second language acquisition has been
depicted as taking place when learners move from speaking a fixed homogeneous native
language to one which increasingly conforms to a uniform target language. This earlier
perspective is in sharp contrast with what Complexity Theory affords.
With Complexity Theory, or Complex Dynamic Systems Theory (CDST, as it is called
when applied to second language development), the shape that language takes is deferred, always
in process, ever-emerging dynamically from interaction. It is helpful to conceive of language as
displaying “patterns in the flux,” like an eddy in a mountain stream, where the water droplets are
continually flowing through while the pattern endures. CDST posits a post-structural ecological
view, in which the spatiotemporal context is seen as playing an integral role in affecting
development. For this reason, it is counterproductive to separate the learner from the learning
process. Individual differences are truly person-oriented, even phenomenological, and mutable.
Variability in intra- and inter-individual performance is ubiquitous. Equifinality, autopoiesis,
self-organization, interconnectedness, co-adaptation, transdisciplinarityall are core,
foundational features of open complex systems.
Clearly, I have provided only a partial and an abbreviated account of the new ontology
that CDST has introduced. For some, this new way of thinking has yielded rich descriptions of
complex systems, including those in second language development. Indeed, much early inquiry
was directed at determining if the characteristics of complex systems applied to phenomena of
interest to applied linguists. The result of these investigations has powerfully informed theorizing
and philosophical explorations, and it has inspired significant new insights into the nature of
language and its learning/development. Additionally, Lynne Cameron and I suggested
“complexity thought modelling,” i.e., ways to think in terms of complex systems as a lead-in to
actual data collection or to conducting an intervention. Hiver and Al-Hoorie extended this basic
modeling approach by proposing a “dynamic ensemble,” nine considerations intended to inform
research designboth approaches valuable for conveying what a different way of thinking
would entail for empirical investigations.
Still, if the value of CDST is to be fully realized, researchers need to take the next step
beyond describing and theorizing change in dynamic systems; they need to conduct research and
adduce evidence, informed by CDST. Some researchers have already done so, but
methodological options have not always been apparent. Indeed, it has not been immediately
obvious how to go about studying processes of change, particularly when the relation among the
factors in focus wax and wane in their influence with the passing of time and when the particular
spatiotemporal context in which the complex system is embedded is so influential. Yet, we
applied linguists know that our problem orientation means that we have a responsibility to go
beyond the unique time and place of a study and to posit a connection between events that were
studied and those that were not.
What this book gives us is a rich array of research methods in order to begin to make that
connection. It provides an invaluable guide for how to go about designing and implementing
research consistent with CDST. It does so by taking into consideration what readers are likely to
bring to their reading, providing accessible descriptions of each method, one per chapter,
illustrating each method with an example study, and linking each to a set of research questions
and annotated readings. The end of the book concludes with a helpful glossary and provides
further resources.
Interpretations of CDST can sometimes be superficial, merely pointing out the shared
attributes between complex systems and language; that is certainly how many of us began. In
this, their latest contribution, Hiver and Al-Hoorie display a depth of understanding of the
fundamental CDST concepts, and they take us beyond description to research designs that are
sensitive to a complex and dynamic reality. Further, the volume is impressive for how the
authors deal in a sophisticated and nuanced way with demanding issues (from a CDST point of
view), such as causality and generalizability.
I also appreciate the anecdotes that make this text eminently readable, such as learning
that Sir Ronald Fisher’s poor eyesight meant that he had rely on his imagination when it came to
mathematics, which allowed him to visualize math geometrically and be the first to lay the
foundation for modern statistics. The authors’ comments at other times are amusing, but I don’t
want to be a spoiler by relaying them here.
Another quality I appreciate in this book is that while it does not walk away from
controversy (e.g., the current preference for, and debate over, mixed methods), it thoroughly
engages in the issue, and thus it is not immediately dismissive of particular positions. This
restraint is not always evident in applied linguistics, but one in which civility does not reflect
weakness, but rather indicates a commitment to a deeper, less divisive understanding. As an
illustration, the authors conclude a discussion of this particular controversy by wisely counseling
that research methods should be integrated rather than mixed.
The potential to deliver robust findings, consistently and convincingly, through powerful
analytical tools is a most welcome next step in the evolution of CDST in service to furthering our
understanding of second language development. Taking the next step to a problem-oriented
approach to scientific inquiry means that this book, a model of clarity, is fully consonant with the
best of what is on offer from applied linguistics. For me personally, I derive a great deal of
comfort from knowing that the important and profound work of a CDST-inspired understanding
of second language development is in good hands and that it will continue.
... The second example takes a wider relation-intensive perspective by analyzing interactions between multiple individual difference constructs at the composite level. Note that the authors of the original studies (Dąbrowska, 2018;Hiver & Al-Hoorie, 2020b) did not position their research within a CDST paradigm, and our reanalysis of their data is not a critique on their work. ...
... Vision can be considered as a combination of imagery capacity and ideal selves and is typically measured by visual and auditory learning style preferences, and vividness of imagery capacity (You et al., 2016). A number of studies have used SEM to explore the interrelationships between these motivational constructs and the extent to which the L2MSS can predict language learning or intended effort (Dörnyei & Chan, 2013;Hiver & Al-Hoorie, 2020b;You et al., 2016). However, as You et al. (2016, p. 97) have pointed out, "because the L2 Motivational Self System was originally proposed as a framework with no directional links among the three components, past empirical studies employing SEM have not been uniform in specifying these interrelationships." ...
... In both studies (Hiver & Al-Hoorie, 2020b;You et al., 2016), the authors were interested in the relationships between the L2MSS, vision, and intended effort. By using SEM, they operationalized motivational constructs as latent variables, depicting hypothesized causal relationships between latent constructs with unidirectional arrows. ...
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... There are several books on research methods and complexity theory. One that I would recommend is Research methods in complexity theory (Hiver & Al-Hoorie, 2020). ...
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