My book, Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (Taylor 2005), considers three angles—like facets of a crystal—from which to view the practice of researchers:
A. their study of complex situations;
B. their interactions with other social agents to establish what counts as knowledge; and
C. their efforts to pursue social change in which they address self-consciously the complexities of their own situatedness as well as of the complexities of the situation studied.
These angles are evident in the larger structure of the book’s three parts: I. Modeling ecological complexity, II. Interpreting ecological modelers in their complex social context; and III. Engaging reflexively within ecological and social complexity. The complex situations referred to in angle A are primarily those studied in ecology and socio-environmental research, but the complexity of influences studied in the interpretation of science leads to an equivalent set of three angles.
For each angle, I discuss problems with simple formulations of well-bounded systems that have coherent internal dynamics and simply mediated relations with their external context (labeled type 1 formulations in Chapter 6). I contrast these formulations with work based on dynamics among particular, unequal units or agents whose actions implicate or span a range of social domains (type 3). I note, however, that simple formulations are easier to communicate than reconstructions of particular situations and simple formulations appear to have more effect on social mobilization. I introduce, therefore, an in-between kind of formulation (type 2): simple themes that open up issues, pointing to greater complexity and to further work needed in particular cases. Indeed, opening out across boundaries and opening up questions provides the impetus from each chapter to the next. This mode of expository and conceptual development is conveyed by the summary in the next post of the book’s themes and the questions opened up.
This 3×3 structure (summarized in a subsequent post) should be applicable to other fields with complex subject matters.