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Computational and Mathematical Organization Theory

, Volume 23, Issue 2, pp 221–257

First Online: 16 June 2016DOI: 10.1007-s10588-016-9224-2

Cite this article as: Anzola, D., Barbrook-Johnson, P. & Cano, J.I. Comput Math Organ Theory 2017 23: 221. doi:10.1007-s10588-016-9224-2


Complexity science and its methodological applications have increased in popularity in social science during the last two decades. One key concept within complexity science is that of self-organization. Self-organization is used to refer to the emergence of stable patterns through autonomous and self-reinforcing dynamics at the micro-level. In spite of its potential relevance for the study of social dynamics, the articulation and use of the concept of self-organization has been kept within the boundaries of complexity science and links to and from mainstream social science are scarce. These links can be difficult to establish, even for researchers working in social complexity with a background in social science, because of the theoretical and conceptual diversity and fragmentation in traditional social science. This article is meant to serve as a first step in the process of overcoming this lack of cross-fertilization between complexity and mainstream social science. A systematic review of the concept of self-organization and a critical discussion of similar notions in mainstream social science is presented, in an effort to help practitioners within subareas of complexity science to identify literature from traditional social science that could potentially inform their research.

KeywordsComplexity Self-organization Social science Order Equilibrium Social contract 

Author: David Anzola - Peter Barbrook-Johnson - Juan I. Cano


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