Sociology Index


Chaos or complexity theory distinguishes the presence of social disorder from order within social disorder. The notion of patterned regularities operating deep within the apparent randomness of dynamic systems (including the behavior of society as a macro/micro system) challenges the assumptions informing correctional, psychiatric, and/or legal practice.

What chaos theory is and What chaos theory isn't
Chaos Theory is the popular term used to describe a novel, quite revolutionary approach to a wide range of mathematical, pure science, and applied science fields. Instead of the term chaos theory many people prefer the terms "complexity theory" or "dynamic systems theory." Chaos theory is a new paradigm, that transcends the limitations of conventional science.

The fundamental lesson of chaos theory is that the behavior of a wide range of "dynamic systems" (the atmosphere, the solar system) is extremely sensitive to minute fluxes in initial conditions, thus making it virtually impossible to obtain accurate medium-term and long-term predictions. This finding opens the door to solving or coping with a wide range of heretofore vexing problems.

People who have heard of Chaos theory associate it with the idea that tiny disturbances can cause enormous long-term differences. In the movie Jurassic Park, the actor Jeff Goldblum speaks about the "butterfly effect," that a butterfly flapping its wings could set in motion a sequence of self-reinforcing events that would ultimately result in a hurricane on the other side of the world. While within the realm of possibility, this image has reduced Chaos theory as conceived by most people into a generic cliche that the world's just a unpredictable mess. Many pundits invoke chaos theory to complain about frustrations with daily life, which is a disservice to the task of highlighting the important insights of chaos theory. 

Society for Chaos Theory in Psychology & Life Sciences
The purpose of the Society for Chaos Theory in Psychology and Life Sciences (SCTPLS) is to provide a forum for scholars and practitioners who share an interest in the application of nonlinear dynamical systems models in psychology, social sciences and life sciences. Members of SCTPLS share an interest in a wide range of nonlinear dynamical phenomena, such as chaos theory, catastrophe theory, fractal geometry, and far-from-equilibrium systems, and they appreciate the wide range of possibilities for application in such areas as clinical and organizational psychology, neurobehavioral science, medicine, economy, biology and education. - Society for chaos theory.

Chaos Theory and Its Implications for Social Science Research - Hal Gregersen, Lee Sailer 
Based on theoretical and mathematical principles of chaos theory, we argue that the customary social science goals of "prediction" and "control" of systems behavior are sometimes, if not usually, unobtainable. Specifically, chaos theory shows how it is possible for nearly identical entities embedded in identical environments to exhibit radically different behaviors, even when the underlying systems are extremely simple and completely deterministic. Furthermore, chaos theory arguments are general enough to apply to any type of entity, including individuals, groups, and organizations, and therefore they are relevant to a large domain of social science problems. As a result, this paper concludes with six familiar claims about the study of social phenomena for which chaos theory provides new theoretical arguments.

Social Structures and Chaos Theory - Smith, R. D. (1998)
Sociological Research Online, vol. 3, no. 1.
Abstract: Up to this point many of the social-scientific discussions of the impact of Chaos theory have dealt with using chaos concepts to refine matters of prediction and control. Chaos theory, however, has far more fundamental consequences which must also be considered. This paper attempts to show that such social and structural concepts as class, race, gender and ethnicity produce analytic difficulties so serious that the concept of structuralism itself must be reconceptualised to make it adequate to the demands of Chaos theory. The most compelling mode of doing this is through the use of Connectionism. The paper will also attempt to show this effectively means the successful inclusion of Chaos theory into social sciences represents both a new paradigm and a new epistemology and not just a refinement to the existing structuralist models. Research using structuralist assumptions may require reconciliation with the new paradigm. 

Chaos Theory and the Social Sciences
In this paper, I examine three ways researchers in the social sciences have used chaos theory. These examinations are part of an ongoing project to understand what chaos theory means and what it does not mean, as a way to investigate the general question of how research in the physical sciences is and ought to be translated across disciplines. The first type of use of chaos theory is the application of mathematical techniques. In the physical sciences, a typical experimental situation will yield a long series of measurements, from which a "strange attractor" can be sought in reconstructed phase space. Social systems present a genuine challenge to such attempts, though perhaps not an impossible one. Under what circumstances can the mathematical techniques of nonlinear dynamics and chaos theory be applied to social systems?

CHAOS: The Geometrization Of Thought - (Talk given to the Chaos in Psychology Association) F. David Peat
Introduction: As a result of the popular books and magazine articles that have appeared over the last few years the topic of chaos theory has become familiar to many people. For example, the image of "butterfly effect" is often applied to systems so extraordinary sensitive that a perturbation as small as the flapping of a butterfly's wings produces a large scale change of behavior. While chaos theory holds that such systems remain strictly deterministic they are so enormously complex that the exact details of their behavior are, in practice, unpredictable even with the aid of the largest computers.
In a sense, chaos theory is something of a misnomer for it is not so much the study of systems in which all order has broken down in favour of pure chance but rather of those which exhibit extremely high degrees of order involving subtle and sensitive behavior.
While chaos theory and fractal descriptions are capable of simulating a wide variety of natural processes it remains an open question as to the extent to which such theories actually offer a full account of the inner workings of nature and society. While chaos theory is purely deterministic may there exist certain natural processes that are essentially chaotic, indeterministic and random?