Complexity Theory in Political Science and Public Policy


Cairney P (2012) Complexity Theory in Political Science and Public Policy. Political Studies Review, 10 (3), pp. 346-358.

Advocates of complexity theory describe it as a new scientific paradigm. Complexity theory identifies instability and disorder in politics and policy making, and links them to the behaviour of complex systems. It suggests that we shift our analysis from individual parts of a political system to the system as a whole; as a network of elements that interact and combine to produce systemic behaviour. This article explores the use of complexity theory in public policy, highlighting a small literature using the language of complexity directly to describe complex policy-making systems, and a larger literature identifying complexity themes. It then highlights the main problems to be overcome before complexity theory can become truly valuable in politics and policy making.

public policy; devolution; complexity theory; political science

Political Studies Review: Volume 10, Issue 3

Publication date30/09/2012
Date accepted by journal30/04/2012
PublisherWiley-Blackwell for Political Studies Association