Using Complexity Theory Methods for Sociological Theory Development.
Övrigt, 2011

During the last few decades the interest in Complexity Theory (CT) methods in sociology has increased, partly as a result of the increased complexity in sociological theory and partly of that these methods have become more powerful and accessible. However, despite this increased interest, the application of CT-methods still holds a peripheral existence within mainstream sociology. Based on a review of the contemporary discussion regarding computer-based modeling in sociology, it is argued that the reasons for this include a strong focus on the distinction between social and natural systems as well as a lack of connections from CT-models to existing theories. As an alternative to this, the application of more abstract models with the explicit purpose of theory development is suggested to complement traditional sociological methods. Ways of connecting models to theories to enable such theory development are proposed. This discussion is exemplified in a case study with the purpose of further developing the theoretical framework Multi-Level Perspective (MLP), which describes socio-technical transitions in society. The case study consists of two models. The first model illustrates how MLP can be connected to concepts within Dynamical Systems Theory and through this draw insights from research in other areas. The second model analyzes the result of consumer network structure on the strength of product lock-ins, finding that increased globalization may lead to stronger lock-ins, thus making a transition to sustainable products more difficult. Based on the conclusions in this report, it is suggested that integrating CTmethods into the sociological inquiry may provide fresh and deep insights and open up new areas of research.

multi-level perspective

socio-technical transitions

Complexity Theory

agent-based model

sociological theory development

dynamical systems theory



Petter Törnberg

Chalmers, Energi och miljö

Anton Törnberg

Göteborgs universitet