Complexity Theory, Managerial Science and the Problems of Definitions

This post continues my discussion about the challenges associated with how one goes about testing the validity and utility of the particular definition of a complex social system one uses.

I ran across an excellent article in the journal Educational Management, Administration and Leadership by Keith Morrison, titled Complexity Theory, School Leadership and Management: Questions for Theory and Practice [2010, 38(3):374-393]. Morrison has written extensively about the utility of complexity science for the field of education, primarily in terms of leadership issues.

What makes the article so good is that it rigorously deconstructs how the management literature fails to effectively distinguish between the metaphorical versus prescriptive versus descriptive use of the term complex system. Too often (and I personally think almost always) scholars in the management and leadership literature (particularly in the field of education) write about a phenonomena such as autopoiesis as if they can move back and forth between their various uses of the term. For example, in the same argument they will treat autopoeisis as something that is real, something you can cause to happen, or just a really cool way to see things. Or, one finds these scholars saying such things as "Principals needs to teach their faculty to think of their schools as complex, self-organizing systems, because schools are alive and autopoietic, so that they can create a nonlinear learning environment." What does such a sentence mean? Can a school be alive? Can you create a nonlinear working environment? What would such an environment be--one where lots of work leads to little change; or little work leads to sudden great change?

The above sentence is the type of conflated intellectual sloppiness that Morrison addresses in his article. I hihgly recommend reading it.

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