Simplifying complexity: A review of complexity theory

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Complexity theory has captured the attention of the scientific community to the extent where its proponents tout it as a dominant scientific trend. Geographers, and environmental, human, and regional planners have applied complexity theory to topics ranging from cultural transmission and economic growth to the braiding of rivers. While such a wide array of applications is heartening because it speaks to the utility of complexity theory, it is necessary to move beyond the hyperbole and critically examine the nature of complexity research. The author therefore provides an overview of the evolution of complexity research, establishes a preliminary typology of complexity approaches with their advantages and drawbacks, and identifies areas of further research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)405-414
Number of pages10
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2001

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work is supported in part by National Science Foundation Grant Number 9521914 through the Carnegie Mellon University Center for Integrated Study of the Human Dimensions of Global Change. The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Dr. D.P. Angel and Dr. B.L. Turner II. Responsibility for the opinions expressed is solely that of the author.


  • Chaos
  • Complexity theory
  • Emergence
  • Self-organization


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