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Complexity theory and planning: examining 'fractals' for organising policy domains in planning practice

Chettiparamb, A. ORCID: (2014) Complexity theory and planning: examining 'fractals' for organising policy domains in planning practice. Planning Theory, 13 (1). pp. 5-25. ISSN 1741-3052

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1177/1473095212469868


This article examines selected methodological insights that complexity theory might provide for planning. In particular, it focuses on the concept of fractals and, through this concept, how ways of organising policy domains across scales might have particular causal impacts. The aim of this article is therefore twofold: (a) to position complexity theory within social science through a ‘generalised discourse’, thereby orienting it to particular ontological and epistemological biases and (b) to reintroduce a comparatively new concept – fractals – from complexity theory in a way that is consistent with the ontological and epistemological biases argued for, and expand on the contribution that this might make to planning. Complexity theory is theoretically positioned as a neo-systems theory with reasons elaborated. Fractal systems from complexity theory are systems that exhibit self-similarity across scales. This concept (as previously introduced by the author in ‘Fractal spaces in planning and governance’) is further developed in this article to (a) illustrate the ontological and epistemological claims for complexity theory, and to (b) draw attention to ways of organising policy systems across scales to emphasise certain characteristics of the systems – certain distinctions. These distinctions when repeated across scales reinforce associated processes/values/end goals resulting in particular policy outcomes. Finally, empirical insights from two case studies in two different policy domains are presented and compared to illustrate the workings of fractals in planning practice.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Henley Business School > Real Estate and Planning
ID Code:30618
Uncontrolled Keywords:Complexity theory, fractals, planning systems, repetitions, systems theory

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