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The Humanities Conference 2003

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Presentation Details

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Chaos and Complexity Theories: Tools for Understanding Social Processes

Dr. Thomas Jerome Burns.

Ideas from chaos and complexity theories offer valuable tools for thinking and communicating about the social world. Yet while Chaos and Complexity theories have gained some attention in the natural sciences, they are have been relatively ignored in the humanities and social sciences. In this article, we hope to facilitate a discourse about the broader scope of a number of ideas from this theoretical framework. To that end, we highlight key concepts within chaos and complexity theories, such as lawful unpredictability, fractals, nonlinearities, entropy, the “butterfly effect”, and self-organizing systems, and illustrate, through a series of examples within various disciplines, their relevance to the social world. We conclude with a brief discussion of the importance of “scope conditions,” and call for the consideration of chaos and complexity theories within a range of social theories and disciplines.


Dr. Thomas Jerome Burns  (United States Virgin Islands)
Associate Professor
Department of Sociology
University of Oklahoma

{Please see curriculum vitae}

  • Chaos theory
  • Complexity
  • Fractal
  • Self-organizing systems
  • Entropy
  • Butterfly effect

(Virtual Presentation, English)