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Complexity in World Politics

Concepts and Methods of a New Paradigm

Neil E. Harrison

Publication Year: 2006

Despite one hundred years of theorizing, scholars and practitioners alike are constantly surprised by international and global political events. The collapse of communism in Europe, the 1997 Asian financial crisis, and 9/11 have demonstrated the inadequacy of current models that depict world politics as a simple, mechanical system. Complexity in World Politics shows how conventional theories oversimplify reality and illustrates how concepts drawn from complexity science can be adapted to increase our understanding of world politics and improve policy. In language free of jargon, the book’s distinguished contributors explain and illustrate a complexity paradigm of world politics and define its central concepts. They show how these concepts can improve conventional models as well as generate new ideas, hypotheses, and empirical approaches, and conclude by outlining an agenda of theoretical development and empirical research to create and test complex systems theories of issue-areas of world politics.

Published by: State University of New York Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. iii-iv


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pp. v-vi

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1. Thinking About the World We Make

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pp. 1-24

Despite nearly a hundred years of theorizing, scholars and practitioners alike are constantly surprised by international and global political events. The abrupt end of the much-studied Cold War was widely unanticipated, as were the consequences of the collapse of communism in Europe. The defining characteristics of four decades of international politics were erased in a few short years, but the globalization of economic and social life has continued. The 1997 Asian finance crisis rattled the US and European stock markets, civic strife in Venezuela ...

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2. Complexity Is More Than Systems Theory

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pp. 25-42

The previous chapter emphasized the differences between conventional theories of world politics and international relations and complexity. In 1971 Singer proposed a general systems taxonomy that potentially supported both systemic explanation and more limited theorizing. This chapter shows how the important concepts of general systems taxonomy compare with concepts in a complex systems taxonomy. In addition, we argue that complexity’s modifications ...

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3. Complexity and Conflict Resolution

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pp. 43-72

The events of September 11, 2001, undermined much conventional analysis in world politics and international relations (IR). Much as the fall of the Berlin Wall was not anticipated by IR scholars, the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington did not neatly fit within conventional explanations of international conflict. In this paper, therefore, I attempt to (1) respond theoretically and pragmatically to the events and aftermath of September 11, 2001; (2) deal with Realpolitik (and one of its concomitants, ethnocentrism) and conflict resolution as traditionally contending, but potentially complementary, approaches ...

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4. Understanding and Coping with Ethnic Conflict and Development Issues in Post-Soviet Eurasia

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pp. 73-94

Generated by scholars from various disciplines, complexity science integrates concepts from many fields to produce a new slant on evolution.1 Its exponents seek a general theory able to explain many different types of phenomena—social as well as biological and physical. If complexity fulfills this goal, it should also help us to understand ethnic and other problems in post-Soviet Eurasia and other troubled regions. The contributions ...

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5. Beyond Regime Theory: Complex Adaptation and the Ozone Depletion Regime

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pp. 95-120

This chapter undertakes a deceivingly simple endeavor—to show how insights from complexity concepts (drawn from the complex systems taxonomy described in chapters 1 and 2) can aid our understanding of environmental regimes. This is not a wholesale indictment of regime theory. As there is no single regime theory, it is not possible to indict the whole enterprise (Hasenclever, Meyer, and Rittberger, 1997). Rather, I focus on one aspect of a complexity approach ...

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6. Agent-Based Models in the Study of Ethnic Norms and Violence

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pp. 121-136

During the nightmarish April, May, and June of 1994 following the assassination of President Juv

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7. Alternative Uses of Simulation

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pp. 137-142

Let us begin with a definition of simulation. “Simulation means driving a model of a system with suitable inputs and observing the corresponding outputs.” (Bratley, Fox, and Schrage 1987, ix). While this definition is useful, it does not suggest the diverse purposes to which simulation can be put. These purposes include: prediction, performance, training, entertainment, education, proof, and discovery. Prediction. Simulation is able to take complicated ...

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8. Signifying Nothing? What Complex Systems Theory Can and Cannot Tell Us about Global Politics

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pp. 143-164

So laments Shakespeare’s tragic protagonist at the news of his wife’s death. While one may forgive the Scottish king for his pessimistic metaphor, “life” for most of us connotes roseate meanings: dynamism, growth, learning, evolution, and adaptation. So perhaps it is no surprise that the complexity sciences—explicitly concerned with these properties of a variety of systems, from physical to social— not only invoke the metaphor of life but also have postulated the idea of ...

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9. When Worlds Collide: Reflections on the Credible Uses of Agent-Based Models in International and Global Studies

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pp. 165-182

It is quite possible that Agent-Based Models (ABMs)—or, more precisely stated, agency-level computational models—will reshape the practice and use of social science/inquiry. When contrasted with methodological approaches that solely focus on the aggregate levels of analysis, it is possible to envision the realization of an algorithmic social science and the more explicit inclusion of social science theory and insights into the praxis of policy analysis and applied international/ global studies. Moreover, as alluded ...

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10.Complex Systems and the Practice of World Politics

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pp. 183-196

The study and practice of world politics has for too long been distorted by rational choice. This conveniently simple model has misled generations of scholars and policy-makers (Smith 2004). Like a cancer it changes minds and institutions until its simpleminded rationality seems utterly human: “Taking a preference for the maximization of self-interest or even utility as a given begets both a cognitive and a political reality in which individuals and political leaders alike come to view such behavior as normatively acceptable and as the standard ...


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pp. 197-200

SUNY series in Global Politics

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pp. 201-204


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pp. 205-213

E-ISBN-13: 9780791481493
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791468074
Print-ISBN-10: 0791468070

Page Count: 220
Illustrations: 3 tables, 6 figures
Publication Year: 2006

OCLC Number: 74813048
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Complexity in World Politics

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Subject Headings

  • Complexity (Philosophy).
  • International relations -- Methodology.
  • Mill, John Stuart, ‡d 1806-1873.
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