The Sociology of Complex Social Systems: Applications of Moderns Systems Theory to Practical Problems

Monday, 11 July 2016: 09:15
Location: Hörsaal 15 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Tom R. BURNS, Uppsala University, Sweden
Nora MACHADO DES JOHANSSON, ISCTE-IUL ISCTE - University Institute of Lisbon, Portugal
Dolores CALVO, Gothenburg University, Sweden
Ugo CORTE, Department of Sociology, University of Uppsala, Sweden
Alexandra WALKER, Australian National University, Australia
Ilan KELMAN, University College London, England
Monica FREITAS, Faculty of Social Science, Nova University of Lisbon, Portugal
This article outlines a sociological systems theory, drawing on the work of Walter Buckley, Margaret Archer, Thomas Baumgartner, Tom R. Burns, Philippe DeVille, Felix Geyer, and others.. The work has shown how key social science concepts are readily incorporated and applied in system description and analysis: institutional, cultural, and normative conceptualizations; concepts of human agency and social movements; diverse types of roles and social relationships; social systems in relation to one another and in relation to the natural environment and material systems; and processes of transformation and sustainability.

 A key feature of the theory is its consideration of social systems as open to, and interacting with, their social and physical environments. Through interaction with their environment—as well as through internal processes—such systems acquire new properties and are transformed, resulting in evolutionary developments. The theory incorporates in its framework human agents as creative (destructive) transforming forces. They may choose to deviate, oppose, or act in innovative and even perverse ways relative to the norms, values, and social structures of the particular social systems within which they act and interact.

 The theoretical approach has entailed several key applications,  each of which will be briefly illustrated/exemplified in the paper: (1) the conceptualization of human agents as creative (also destructive), and drivers of innovation and creative development within particular social system contexts; (2) the conceptualization of collective consciousness in terms of self-representation and self-reflectivity and applied in analyses of the gaps and dilemmas of  international law regarding gender equality; (3) a theory identifying the universal features of groups and organizations and their dynamics;  (4) a theory of paradigm shifts in policy regimes and regulative institutions (selected case studies of major EU policy shifts); (5) transition and transformation of social systems: selected historical cases as well as the ongoing “sustainability revolution.”