Complexity and Social Movements: Multitudes at the Edge of Chaos

Complexity and Social Movements: Multitudes at the Edge of Chaos

Complexity and Social Movements: Multitudes at the Edge of Chaos

Complexity and Social Movements: Multitudes at the Edge of Chaos


Fusing two key concerns of contemporary sociology: globalization and its discontents, and the 'complexity turn' in social theory, authors Chesters and Welsh utilize complexity theory to analyze the shifting constellation of social movement networks that constitute opposition to neo-liberal globalization. They explore how seemingly chaotic and highly differentiated social actors interacting globally through computer mediated communications, face-to-face gatherings and protests constitute a 'multitude' not easily grasped through established models of social and political change.

Drawing upon extensive empirical research and utilizing concepts drawn from the natural and social sciences this book suggests a framework for understanding mobilization, identity formation and information flows in global social movements operating within complex societies. It suggests that this 'movement of movements' exhibits an emergent order on the edge of chaos, a turbulence that is recasting political agency in the twenty-first century.


This is a work of theory engaging with the increasing relevance of complexity for the social sciences in the context of neo-liberal globalisation. This theoretical work arises from decades of joint experience of, participation in and commentary on grassroots movements and activism. It is thus also a ‘non-manifesto’ addressing what we see as the emergent dynamics of social change in the early twenty-first century. We offer the book simultaneously to an academic and activist audience as an invitation to recognise in the present a sets of stakes which have been repeatedly declared throughout history, the emergent properties associated with contemporary global dynamics and the reconfiguration of these as social forces with the transformative potential to realise the ‘other worlds’ that are not only possible but irresistible. If there is to be a social science of complexity worthy of the name then appreciating such long-cycle iterations in increasingly open natural and social systems is crucial. Such work is vital if future orientations are to transcend the cyclical repetitions of boom– bust/war–peace/in group–out group which characterised the long twentieth century and which rapidly re-emerged following the hollow claims of a ‘new world order’ – an order which quickly degenerated into disorder. We clearly prefer order on the edge of chaos to this sad repetition of ‘my/our civilisation is better than yours’ bloodshed of the innocent.

As a ‘non-manifesto’ there is no blueprint here, though there are many ideas for other forms of ‘order’ associated with minoritarian thinkers. The arguments advanced point towards ways of relating which realise human potential, prioritise the social and end the rule of economics as a discipline by subordinating it to ‘democratically’ co-ordinated social forces. As this is a ‘non-manifesto’ it is open to dialogical engagement rather than being a ‘you are either for this or against it’ statement. We anticipate not being read in this manner but declare a willingness to respond in kind if this is necessary and has creative potential.

We write as critically engaged actors in a style aimed at accessibility, whilst aiming to avoid violence to sophistication and nuance. In doing so, we hope a respect for academic detail is balanced by respect for the theoretical significance of the day-to-day understandings of countless . . .

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