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Complexity of Social Systems

Admission Requirements
Bachelor’s degree in any academic subject

Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of the course, the student is able to:


  • Describe and understand the core principles and ideas behind social systems;
  • Explain and critically describe social theories, structures, and institutions.


  • Analyse policies and reports on social systems;
  • Use problem-solving techniques and research analysis to describe the complexity of social systems
  • Review academic papers and write reports on the complexity of social systems


  • Apply system thinking to describe social constructions and how they function and develop;


Aim of the course

The aim of the “Complexity of Social Systems” course is to provide master’s students with a solid background on the core concepts of social complexity. By the end of the course, students will have a proper understanding of the most important models from social complexity and how they apply to different domains.

The “Complexity of Social Systems” course is an introductory module to the complexity theory applied to social science. It offers master’s students an overview of the theories and methods of social complexity. Sociology is the main domain of focus, but elements of political science and economics will also be developed. The course is relevant since it engages in different aspects of complex systems applied to social science, highlighting the versatility of the subject.

Before starting the actual course, students are provided with a general introduction to the subject of social complexity.

This course can be divided into the following modules:

  • The main Social Systems Theory, Social Structures and Institutions;
  • Self-Organization and Non-linearity of Social Science: feedback loops, chaos theory and self-organized criticality;
  • The Social-Network Analysis: basics of social graphs, clustering, network structure and the process of diffusion;
  • What Complex Social Systems are: complex adaptive systems theory, adaptive capacity, social resilience, and the process of evolution;
  • Introduction to social-ecological systems and social-ecological-technological systems;
  • Qualitative research methods.


Recommended readings

  • Berkes, F., Colding, J. and Folke, C. eds., 2008. Navigating social-ecological systems: building resilience for complexity and change. Cambridge university press.
  • Biggs, R., De Vos, A., Preiser, R., Clements, H., Maciejewski, K. and Schlüter, M., 2021. The Routledge handbook of research methods for social-ecological systems (p. 526). Taylor & Francis.
  • Bryman, A., 2016. Social research methods. Oxford university press.
  • Daniel, K., 2017. Thinking, fast and slow.
  • Luhmann, N., 1995. Social systems. Stanford university Press.
  • Mandl, C.E., Mandl, C.E. and Fess, 2019. Managing complexity in social systems. Springer International Publishing.
  • Stroh, D.P., 2015. Systems thinking for social change: A practical guide to solving complex problems, avoiding unintended consequences, and achieving lasting results. Chelsea Green Publishing.

Teaching Methodology

Please, specify the teaching methodology to be used, such as:

  • Lectures;
  • Independent Study;
  • Seminars;
  • Problem–based Learning.

ECTS Credits

I semester

Examination methodology

Assessment can take the form of:

  • A 1,000-word report on qualitative research method;
  • Two academic papers based on social systems and their complexity will be assigned for students to read, review and present;
  • Continuous assessment in class through active participation and exercises.

The “Complexity of Social Systems” course is designed to provide students with an overall understanding of how social systems are complex. Complexity theories are not to be found only in STEM subjects, but in social science as well. It is therefore interesting for the Joint Curriculum to consider this aspect of science too, which is also related to economy and sustainable development.

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