The PSI Blog


Non-Equilibrium Social Science and Policy
Pete Barbrook-Johnson

We need to put the disequilibrium and complexity of socioeconomic systems at the centre of our work, to allow social science a proper footing for the twenty-first century. Economics has long-dominated policy making around the world, but its paradigm of equilibrium is both at odds with realities we observe and thinking in other social disciplines. 

A new Springer open access book - Non-Equilibrium Social Science and Policy - illustrates how economic theory is the only branch of social science which still holds to its old paradigm of equilibrium. It discusses approaches to disequilibrium and complexity in areas such as social psychology, sociology, human geography, and cities.

Policy making and government are the book’s other key focus, with chapters reflecting on challenges to policy makers and government, that plot a way forward for complexity-friendly policy.

I, along with colleagues at the Department of Sociology, University of Surrey, authored the book’s chapter on sociology. We discuss how this varied discipline relates to the idea of equilibrium, and conclude that sociology is well-placed to contribute to non-equilibrium and complexity thinking.

Specifically, we discuss how agent-based modelling, and the formalisation and ability to capture complexity it offers, has the potential to further the policy relevance of social scientists’ contributions. This is an approach we are using, along with partners, in the ESRC-NERC funded Centre for the Evaluation of Complexity Across the Nexus (CECAN).

The book is open access and can be found here.

Read more Pete’s work here and find him on Twitter - @bapeterj

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