Learning in a Complex World

Authored by: Mark Olssen

The Routledge International Handbook of Learning

Print publication date:  December  2011
Online publication date:  May  2012

Print ISBN: 9780415571302
eBook ISBN: 9780203357385
Adobe ISBN: 9781136598562

10.4324/9780203357385.ch39

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Abstract

Central to representing the world as a complex dynamical system is to understand it as pertaining to an interdisciplinary approach to non-linear processes of change in both nature and society. Although complexity research takes its origins from its applications in physics, chemistry and mathematics and the ‘hard’ sciences, undergoing its formative development in the early and mid-twentieth century, during the second half of the twentieth century it has exerted an effect on the social sciences as well. Today, while there exists a multitude of different approaches and research centres, across the globe, complexity research is generating a quiet revolution in both the physical and social sciences. One interest in the approach is that it liberates philosophy and social science from the prison-house of a constraining scientific past based on linear determinism, reductionism and methodological individualism. Another is that it presents a view of science that supports the social sciences claims that history and culture are important. Arguably, it permits an approach in the social sciences and philosophy that heralds the rise of a ‘third-way’ between the stark individualism of liberal philosophy, and what many consider to be the (equally) oppressive sociologicism of ‘thick’ communitarianism. 1 As an offshoot of this, complexivists also claim that their new approach reinstates, and possibly elevates, a previously marginalized cadre of scholars within the Western intellectual tradition. 2 In this paper my purpose is to elaborate the normative possibilities of complexity theory, first for learning theory and education, and second for a futuristic global ethics which can ground the project of life in the present horizon. Before turning to these tasks it is necessary to introduce complexity theory in order to familiarize the reader with its common features. 3

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