Skip main navigation
We use cookies to give you a better experience, if that’s ok you can close this message and carry on browsing. For more info read our cookies policy.
We use cookies to give you a better experience. Carry on browsing if you're happy with this, or read our cookies policy for more information.

Skip to 0 minutes and 10 secondsComplex systems involve a great many interacting individuals, particles, elements, also responding to their environment without full central control. Complex systems exist in nature but also in society. This lecture focuses on social complex systems. These are systems that connect people, where people interact and respond to their environment. There are many examples of social complex systems, like the social media, firms, non-governmental organisations, the government itself, the financial system, society, and the economy. When do we call systems complex? And what makes them different from the broader class of complex systems? For the definition of social complexity, we turn to economics, to the 1930s, to Friedrich von Hayek, the great Austrian economist, the defender of the free market and liberalism and freedom.

Skip to 1 minute and 20 secondsHe defended the market system against the concept of central planning in the 1930s. The 1930s was a period of high unemployment and stagnation in the economy. Many people felt attracted to communism and central planning. But von Hayek argued that a market system is superior because it allows for taking into account all widely dispersed information and knowledge in society and in the economy without needing central control. The market system is also capable of responding to all detailed changes that take place continuously, the so-called peculiarities of time and place.

Skip to 2 minutes and 5 secondsIn the 1960s, von Hayek made explicit that the market system is a complex system. From that work, a definition of a social complex system can be derived. A social system is complex according to his work if all information that is needed to describe the state of the system, at any point in time, cannot be collected at one central point. It is, however, impossible to take a picture of social complex systems, let alone to make a movie to describe its development over time in detail. Special about social complex systems is also that scientific knowledge and analysis is part of that system and/or influences the functioning of the network.

Skip to 2 minutes and 58 secondsIn this lecture, we have defined social complexity and argued that social complex systems are specific. And the design studying them influences the system. And that those studying them may be part of them.

Introduction to social complexity

This video will focus on social complex systems that exists of people. It talks about what differentiates these social complex systems from general complex systems that exist in nature. This comes from the ideas of the famous economist Friedrich Hayek. This video emphasises the importance of realising that social scientists are part of the systems they study.

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Decision Making in a Complex and Uncertain World

University of Groningen

Get a taste of this course

Find out what this course is like by previewing some of the course steps before you join:

Contact FutureLearn for Support