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Type: Thesis
Title: Imagining a complex world: science, order and international relations.
Author: Louth, Jonathon
Issue Date: 2010
School/Discipline: School of History and Politics
Abstract: How order is understood has been a central preoccupation of international relations theory. Within the Western imagination, order, banishing chaos, emerged from the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment as a knowable and calculable concept. Order became a known entity; it is the rational world. The irrational, that which didn’t fit into neat delineations, was to be shunned. The resultant scientific method came to represent a reductionist, linear, and predictable outlook. Although it subsequently stepped down from its positivist heights, this Newtonian paradigm continues to inform (whether in opposition or in support) theory construction within social sciences, and, by extension, international relations theory. However, for over a century the sciences, divorced from the social sciences, have moved beyond this paradigm, with considerable attention being directed to the non-linear sciences. From this family of new sciences, complexity theory, drawing on and displacing chaos theory, has emerged over the last two decades as a genuine paradigmatic alternative. This thesis argues that the incorporation of complexity theory at the meta-theoretical levels offers the opportunity to reconsider ontological and epistemological assumptions within the study of global politics. In detailing the presuppositions that best capture a complexity worldview, it is argued that complex adaptive systems, like the international system, exhibit emergent properties. Irreducibility, sensitivity to initial conditions, and self-organisation are shown to be central to comprehending how complex systems evolve, adapt and maintain highenergy far-from-equilibrium processes. Conversely, it is argued that dominant rationalist-based theories of international relations continue to seek out theories of natural equilibrium, which often reflect a transference of the Newtonian paradigm via a neoclassical economic ontology. Instead, it is argued that the international system should be viewed as a series of nested and overlapping complex adaptive systems that contains significant points of attraction, the most recognisable being the state. Moving towards an acceptance of the impact of the non-linear sciences at the meta-theoretical level will press the importance of intuition and interpretation to theories of international relations. Moreover, theories that absorb this commitment will more easily escape accusations of either irrelevancy for lacking a scientific base or of suffering from ‘physics envy’, in its traditional guise, because of its scientific base.
Advisor: Patrikeeff, Felix
Dissertation Note: Thesis (Ph.D.) -- University of Adelaide, School of History and Politics, 2010
Keywords: international relations theory; complexity theory; order
Provenance: Copyright material removed from digital thesis. See print copy in University of Adelaide Library for full text.
Appears in Collections:Research Theses

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