Applying the science of complexity to the question of organization

  • Jasper Ligthart

Student thesis: Master's Thesis: Humanistic Studies


In this thesis, the question is explored of how complexity theory can inform and challenge the study of organizations. Complexity theory researches complex social and natural systems and the phenomena to which they give rise, such as emergence, adaptiveness, self-organization and complexity. It has been suggested that (human) organizations are complex systems, being composed of many actors which, through local interactions, generate emergent behavior on the level of the organization as a whole. If this is true, it challenges many of the – implicit - assumptions we hold when thinking and writing about organizations. Drawing on complexity scholars and organization theorists such as Ralph Stacey, Paul Cilliers, and Edgar Morin, I analyze and critically evaluate (1) How complexity theory has been used in organizations studies so far (2) What theoretical and ethical consequences the insights from complexity theory hold for the way we think about organizations (3) What a theory of organization rooted in complexity studies could look like (4) How professionals working with organizations can develop an attitude that allows them to better deal with complexity in their practice. I conclude that complexity theory has important consequences for the way we think and work in organizations, proposing an approach which is not aimed at reducing complexity for those involved, but at engaging it from an attitude which is both modest and reflective.
Date of Award1 Jan 2014
Original languageAmerican English
SupervisorF. Suárez Müller (Supervisor) & A. J. J. A. Maas (Supervisor)

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