Using complexity theory to develop understanding of tourism and the environment

Authored by: Nancy Stevenson

The Routledge Handbook of Tourism and the Environment

Print publication date:  July  2012
Online publication date:  August  2012

Print ISBN: 9780415582070
eBook ISBN: 9780203121108
Adobe ISBN: 9781136325564


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An understanding of tourism and the environment requires an appreciation of the inter-connected and multiple relationships between humans and their surroundings. The inter-play between nature and society in a rapidly changing world creates problems that are highly complex, constantly evolving and ambiguous. These complex problems are not easily understood by traditional linear methods, and researchers in a wide range of disciplines are now exploring what complexity theory might offer to develop understanding of social/environmental interactions. Farrell and Twining-Ward (2004) perceive the problem in tourism thus:

The central problem is that tourism researchers schooled in a tradition of linear, specialized, predictable, deterministic, cause-and-effect science, are working in an area of study that is largely nonlinear, integrative, generally unpredictable, qualitative and characterized by causes giving rise to multiple outcomes, quite out of proportion to initial input.

(Farrell and Twining-Ward 2004: 277)

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