We live in times of profound political transformation, as Industrial Age social organization gives way to the emergence of a new form of networks society, political organization, in turn, is entering into a new period of disruption and rapid evolution. The modern construct of liberal republicanism, representative democracy, and the nation state framework are being challenged by the rise of globalization and the pervasive proliferation of information networks on all levels. These changes are creating ever larger spaces outside of traditional political organization, both within societies and on the global level, while at the same time new social and political networked organizations are being born online and increasingly having an effect on all areas of social organization.
The ongoing emergence of the network society rewrites the rules of political organization rendering old categorizations and concepts that defined political systems for the past centuries less relevant. In this context new insight, models and vocabulary are desperately needed to understand the workings of political systems in an age of information, globalization, and complexity. This course explores how complexity theory can be applied to political science in order to develop such a vocabulary. It draws upon the central concepts and models from complexity theory, such as systems thinking, self-organization, nonlinear systems, network theory and adaptive capacity, applying them to interpreting complex political systems.
Sociopolitical Systems: The course is broken down into five main sections. We start the course off with a broad discussion on sociocultural systems as the foundations to political organization. We go on to lay down the basics of political theory and identify the central elements of political systems; the different types of political systems that we encounter and the evolution of sociopolitical complexity.
Emergence: In the second section, we will be looking at the concepts of emergence and self-organization as applied to political systems. We firstly discuss the dynamics of self-organization and pattern formation, before looking at emergence as it applies to the formation of new political movements through only local peer-to-peer interactions and interdependencies.
Nonlinearity: In the next section, we introduce concepts and models from nonlinear systems theory and apply them to understanding the dynamics of political organization. We talk about new ideas from political field theory, non-equilibrium dynamics, the significance of power law distributions, feedback dynamics, and regime shifts.
Sociopolitical Networks: The fourth section deals with sociopolitical networks, firstly illustrating how the network approach to political science adopts a relational paradigm and how this differs from more traditional statistical methods of political science. Here we introduce the main models for interpreting social networks and analyzing their structure, dynamics, and processes of diffusion.
Adaptation: The final section deals with the evolution of sociopolitical systems and their adaptive capacity. Here we will talk about the ideas of political resilience, the primary factors influencing adaptive capacity and evolutionary potential; asking how and why do sociopolitical systems succeed or fail in navigating major processes of change
This course should be accessible to anyone with a general knowledge of the social sciences. No prior knowledge of complexity theory is required as models will be explained as we encounter them, likewise, basic ideas within political theory will be introduced in the first section. The course will be of particular relevance to those in the domain of political science but will also be of general relevance to anyone with an interest in understanding the macro-level contemporary changes taking place within political organization.
Political Complexity Overview
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