InstructorJ. Colchester
TypeOnline Course
Student Enrolled7
Certificate60% of quiz marks

Social Complexity

This course is an accessible introduction to the application of complexity theory to the social sciences, the course will be primarily focused on the domain of sociology, but we will touch upon elements of psychology, anthropology, political science and economics. The aim of the course is to introduce you to the variety of models from complex systems and illustrate how they apply to these different domains.  This course is a first of its kind and somewhat experimental in nature, where we will be drawing upon research from many different areas and using complexity theory to contextualize it into a coherent paradigm, giving us a fresh perspective with which to interpret some of the core questions within the social sciences.


The course is broken down into four main sections, in each section we will apply one of the major modeling frameworks from complexity theory to interpreting social phenomena. We will firstly give an overview of this area of social complexity before starting our first section on systems theory as we lay down a basic model of a social system, we will go on to use this model in helping us understand, social structure and institutions.

Next, we will take an overview of nonlinear social science, as we discuss the process of self-organization, feedback loops, chaos theory and self-organized criticality. The third section of the course is dedicated to social network analysis, we will cover the main topics in this new area as we talk about the basics of social graphs, clustering, network structure and the process of diffusion. Finally, we will be looking through the lens of complex adaptive systems theory, exploring the model of a fitness landscape, talking about adaptive capacity, social resilience and the process of evolution.


This course is designed to be accessible to a broad audience but will be of particular interest to researchers and students within the various social sciences wishing to apply complexity theory within their own work. Some background in social theory and complexity theory would be an advantage but not a prerequisite.

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Section 1Social Complexity Overview
Lecture 1Preliminaries
Lecture 2Social Complexity
Section 2Social Systems
Lecture 3Social Systems Overview
Lecture 4Social Agents
Lecture 5Social Interdependence Theory
Lecture 6Institutions
Lecture 7Functions
Lecture 8Social Structure
Lecture 9External Resources
Section 3Nonlinear Social Science
Lecture 10Nonlinear Social Science
Lecture 11Self-Organization
Lecture 12Synchronization & Causal Links
Lecture 13Feedback Loops
Lecture 14Attractors & Chaos
Lecture 15Edge-of-Chaos
Lecture 16Social Dynamics
Lecture 17Self-Organized Criticality
Lecture 18External Resources
Section 4Social Networks
Lecture 19Section Overview
Lecture 20Social Network Science
Lecture 21Community Structure
Lecture 22Network Structure
Lecture 23Network Diffusion
Lecture 24External Resources
Section 5Complex Adaptive Systems
Lecture 25Complex Adaptive Systems
Lecture 26Adaptive Capacity
Lecture 27Evolution
Lecture 28External Resources
Section 6Conclusion
Final Quiz