This 2009 working paper by Diane Hendricks is an exploration of the usefulness of complexity theory in the the field of peace research and conflict intervention (to see other publications relevant to complexity and aid, visit the Aid on the Edge of Chaos Publications page)

From the Executive Summary:

The paper begins by outlining key features of complex systems before going on to illustrate attempts made to apply complexity theory (originating in the natural sciences) in various social science fields with a consideration of some of the difficulties this translation poses.

Conflict analysis is the basis of research and strategy formation and indispensable to intervention in conflict situations, therefore, the potential for deepening and sharpening analysis that complexity theory may offer are discussed and conclusions about the advantages of a complexity-influenced conflict analysis are drawn. Some of the tools available to augment analysis are briefly presented, whereby the main emphasis is given to computer simulation.

The understanding of the nature of change processes in complex systems is considered and the implications of a complexity approach for intervention in conflict and development environments in terms of strategy development are discussed. The view is taken that the gains to be made (at least so far) are largely in terms of an altered and, it will be argued, more sophisticated and realistic orientation that affects the way that things are perceived in analysis and done in the field rather than in the introduction of specific new methods.

On the basis of the foregoing exploration it will be argued that a change is required in the education and training of peace researchers and conflict and development workers such that the above-mentioned orientation to complex conflict situations may be developed and here transdisciplinarity is seen as playing an integral role. The varying conceptions of transdisciplinarity are discussed and specific examples of transdisciplinary research and education enterprises are presented.

The importance of the intra-personal complex processes not only of conflict parties but also of conflict interveners (and even conflict transformation researchers) is highlighted. The view is taken that the peace worker becomes part of the complex system in which he or she seeks to intervene and, therefore, requires self-reflective abilities and the development of awareness and mindfulness in analysis, through strategy development and into actual intervention. The development of these abilities thus becomes part of an appropriate education and training for those working in the field of peace and conflict. This aspect of the topic is to be elaborated in further research papers.

The conclusion briefly reviews the valid concerns and doubts with regard to the application of complexity theory within the social sciences before attempting a tentative balance of the benefits to be gained from continued engagement in the process of adaptation and integration of complexity concepts and approaches in the field of conflict transformation.

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About Ben Ramalingam

I am a researcher and writer specialising on international development and humanitarian issues. I am currently working on a number of consulting and advisory assignments for international agencies. I am also writing a book on complexity sciences and international aid which will be published by Oxford University Press. I hold Senior Research Associate and Visiting Fellow positions at the Institute of Development Studies, the Overseas Development Institute, and the London School of Economics.


Conflict and peace building, Public Policy, Reports and Studies