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Societal systems – complex or worse?


Complexity science is widely seen as a source of key theoretical capabilities that have long been lacking in the study of large-scale societal phenomena such as sociotechnical transitions. But compared with the transformative impact of complexity science in many other elds, few if any real breakthroughs have materialized. We here address the question of why societal systems remain so recalcitrant, and not only to complexity science, but to formal approaches in general. We argue that societal systems combine at least two methodologically troublesome systemic qualities { here referred to as complexity and complicatedness - and that the question of what consequences that an intermixing between these two qualities may have has not been systematically pursued. We do have powerful formal approaches for dealing with both of these qualities, but we argue that the combination between these qualities is emergent; i.e. fundamentally and irreducibly di erent from either quality in isolation. Noting a connection to what has long been called \wicked problems” we outline a possible new class of systems that we call \Wicked Systems” and discuss some implications of such a construct for theorizing, modeling and policy.

Authors: Claes Andersson, Anton Törnberg, Petter Törnberg