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Leslie Wasson

Subject Sociology » Social Movements, Sociological and Social Theory

Key-Topics postmodernism

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405124331.2007.x


Chaos theory emerged over the past several decades in the physical sciences as an explanatory framework for processes that appeared disorderly, such as turbulence or weather patterns, but which had complex mathematical models behind their seeming randomness. Complexity theory developed as an offshoot of chaos theory. It seeks to explain, among other things, the diversification of biological systems using a parsimonious set of predictors. Social science has a history of applying theoretical findings from the physical sciences. However, theories which are highly predictive for disciplines such as chemistry or physics fall short of explanation for the diverse phenomena and larger standard error margins of human behavior. The apparent promise of chaos or complexity theories for sociology is their tolerance for ambiguity, uncertainty, or unpredictability, and their assertion that apparent disorder in human behavior may in fact be orderly at a higher level than we are measuring ( Lee 2002 ). However intriguing the theoretical or methodological possibilities may appear, at the time of this writing few sociological studies have been published that successfully apply chaos or complexity mathematics to empirical research results. Journal articles more frequently use concepts and models of chaos or complexity as metaphors, and they may fail to distinguish between the two theories. One example ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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