Publication 330

Alhadeff-Jones M. (2008) Three generations of complexity theories: Nuances and ambiguities. Educational Philosophy and Theory 40(1): 66–82. Fulltext at
The contemporary use of the term ‘complexity’ frequently indicates that it is considered a unified concept. This may lead to a neglect of the range of different theories that deal with the implications related to the notion of complexity. This paper, integrating both the English and the Latin traditions of research associated with this notion, suggests a more nuanced use of the term, thereby avoiding simplification of the concept to some of its dominant expressions only. The paper further explores the etymology of ‘complexity’ and offers a chronological presentation of three generations of theories that have shaped its uses; the epistemic and socio-cultural roots of these theories are also introduced. From an epistemological point of view, this reflection sheds light on the competing interpretations underlying the definition of what is considered as complex. Also, from an anthropological perspective it considers both the emancipatory as well as the alienating dimensions of complexity. Based on the highlighted ambiguities, the paper suggests in conclusion that contributions grounded in contemporary theories related to complexity, as well as critical appraisals of their epistemological and ethical legitimacy, need to follow the recursive feedback loops and dynamics that they constitute. In doing so, researchers and practitioners in education should consider their own practice as a learning process that does not require the reduction of the antagonisms and the complementarities that shape its own complexity.


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