Centre for Conflict Resolution Department of Peace Studies
Working Paper 17
Complexity Theory and Conflict Transformation:
An Exploration of Potential and Implications
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Working Paper 16
“To study history means submitting to chaos and nevertheless retaining faith in order and meaning.”
“‘The game as I conceive it,’ Knecht once wrote, ‘leaves (the player) with the feeling that he has extracted from the universe of accident and confusion a totally symmetrical and harmonious cosmos, and absorbed it into himself.’"
Hermann Hesse, The Glass Bead Game
This working paper is intended as an exploration of the usefulness of complexity theory to the field of peace research and conflict intervention. I have used the term conflict transformation to indicate a comprehensive and long term approach to social change in situations of violent, often intractable conflict and reference will also be made to development and aid, security and ecology as being relevant to conflict transformation processes. The paper begins by outlining key features of complex systems before going on to illustrate attempts made to apply complexity theory (originating in the natural sciences) in various social science fields with a consideration of some of the difficulties this translation poses. Conflict analysis is the basis of research and strategy formation and indispensable to intervention in conflict situations, therefore, the potential for deepening and sharpening analysis that complexity theory may offer are discussed and conclusions about the advantages of a complexity-influenced conflict analysis are drawn. Some of the tools available to augment analysis are briefly presented, whereby the main emphasis is given to computer simulation. The...
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